Black Women’s Health Imperative Calls New Mammogram Guidelinesa Death Sentence for Many Black Women
The Black Women’s Health Imperative (Imperative) finds the recent announcement by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updating its 2002 breast cancer screening recommendations unacceptable.
These recommendations, which are being supported by several national breast cancer advocacy organizations, do a serious disservice to Black women.
Two USPSTF assertions, in particular, could prove deadly for many Black women: 1) that breast self-exams do not save lives and are, therefore, unnecessary; and 2) that mammograms should be delayed until age 50 and, even then, performed only every other year. Three facts about breast cancer and Black women also make the task force’s recommendations inappropriate and potentially deadly. Black women: 1) tend to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age; 2) are more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a more virulent form; and 3) are more likely to die of breast cancer than White women.
“I strongly disagree with the notion that preventing the psychological harms and inconvenience caused by false-positive screening results, as implied in the recommendations, outweigh the importance of saving one woman’s life. We should not be in the business of rationing care,” Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president and CEO of the Imperative, said. “Historically, researchers have not studied Black women. Black women have not been at the forefront of the breast cancer movement, and our unique health experiences and outcomes have not been factored into policy and advocacy decisions. These recommendations completely ignore the impact of well-known breast cancer disparities affecting us.”
Ngina Lythcott, DrPH, the Imperative’s representative on the Integration Panel of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Breast Cancer Research Program, a survivor and advocate, agrees: “As a 21-year breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed and treated in my early 40s, I encourage the Imperative to continue to tell women to perform monthly breast self exams and receive annual clinical exams and mammograms to monitor their breast health. These recommendations are ill informed because they are based upon a macro review of breast cancer research that could not have included the experiences of Black women.”
The Imperative is tremendously concerned about how health insurance companies will interpret the USPSTF recommendations. Will they use them to refuse to cover the cost of mammograms before age 50, and then only every other year? Will younger Black women be denied appropriate breast cancer screening, detection, diagnosis and treatment, jeopardizing their lives?
“These new recommendations do not consider the data we have about younger African American women who have a more aggressive form of breast cancer,” asserts Zora Brown, 30-year breast cancer advocate and survivor and director of health and cultural affairs for INTEGRIS Health. “I think these recommendations are baffling, confusing and wrongheaded.”
If Black women follow the USPSTF recommendations, breast cancer may kill many of them before they ever have their first mammogram.
The Imperative strongly recommends that Black women continue to perform monthly breast self exams, request an annual clinical breast exam performed by a health provider, and a mammogram starting as early as possible and no later than age 40.
Regina Hampton, M.D., surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer surgery, agrees with the Imperative’s recommendations: “Mammograms are the best test we have. I am appalled that the task force would make these recommendations. I have many patients between the ages of 30 – 49, who have benefited from mammography and are survivors.”
The Black Women's Health Imperative is a 501(c)3 nonprofit education, advocacy, research and leadership development organization that focuses on health issues that affect Black women disproportionately. It is the only national organization devoted solely to ensuring optimum health for Black women across their life span - physically, mentally and spiritually.