COMMENTARY: Breaking down barriers in breast cancer mortality

I was pleased to read the Washington Post on Oct. 3 to learn that a recent American Cancer Society study indicates that the “Breast-cancer death rate drops almost 40 percent, saving 322,000 lives”. Reducing the number of deaths due to breast cancer is one of the most significant goals of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition (DBCC) Inc., so naturally, this story would make me very optimistic.

According to the report, the decline in breast cancer death rate was measured from 1989 through 2015. The drop is attributed to improvements in treatment and an increase in early detection screenings via mammography. DBCC knows firsthand that an early diagnosis can improve a breast cancer prognosis significantly and that newer treatments come with increased precision and fewer nasty side effects for many patients.

Moreover, one of the most inspiring measures in the Washington Post article was the decline in racial disparities in breast cancer. For many years, the incidence of white woman being diagnosed with cancer was higher than black women; however black women were more likely to die of their breast cancer compared to their white counterparts.

The research tells us this is a result of many issues, ranging from access to health care, to insurance coverage/costs, to the genetic makeup of the cancer diagnosis. Since then, DBCC has been working hard to break down barriers to breast cancer and striving to reduce genetic inequities within our state.

Programs like the Delaware Division of Public Health’s Women’s Mobile Health Screening Van, along with DBCC’s Outreach and Education Programs such as ¡VIDA!, Wise and Well, and Planting the SEED have all set out to accomplish these goals.

While there is still work to be done, Delaware was noted among just three states said to be reducing or eliminating racial disparities in breast cancer mortality, standing among Connecticut and Massachusetts. While this isn’t the end of the road, researchers like Carol DeSantis, director of breast and gynecological cancer surveillance research for the American Cancer Society and the lead author of the study, are pointing to these three states as the “light at the end of the tunnel”.

There is a large community effort in Delaware to improve population health and fund preventative screenings and none of this would have been possible without the hard work of various public health entities, hospitals, donors, and other community partners.

But I am proud to say that the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition has been spending enormous efforts on this very issue. It is assuring and promising to see that these efforts were well spent and as a result, lives are being saved.

While I take pride in our accomplishments, I realize breast cancer continues to kills over 41,000 women and men in the United States each year. I am inspired to keep fighting on behalf of all the friends we have lost to the disease.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Beth Krallis is communications director of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition in Wilmington.

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