October is breast cancer awareness month! I have been absolutely amazed at how many people have been active in increasing the awareness of this disease this month. It has been wonderful. At a church I was visiting last week, the male pastor told the congregation in honor of breast cancer awareness month he was preaching out of a pink Bible. He remarked it takes a strong and confident man to carry around a pink Bible. On Facebook one of my friends suggested that we put a cute ambiguous note as part of a drive to get a newsworthy story about using social media to increase awareness about breast cancer.
As a physician I want to be part of that education process so I want to share one of the studies I have learned about this month. Washington D.C., the city where I live and practice, has the highest rate of breast cancer mortality in the country. Even more disturbing is that African-American women have higher rates of death in the District than any other ethnic group. These facts always cause me to look at research that can help explain the reasons for why so many women are dying from breast cancer in this area. I also look for treatments that support the healing and remission process for women especially in the city that I love. There is a growing concern as to why African-American women are dying of this disease in far greater numbers than any other group. Some of the factors are related to socio-economic reasons, education, access and genetic reasons. Genetically more African-American women have an ER-negative form of breast cancer. This form is insensitive to the hormone estrogen and is more aggressive, more difficult to treat and leads to more deaths. African-American women in D.C. are diagnosed with this form in higher numbers as well. Researchers at the University of Boston have been conducting a study for the last 12 years following over 50,000 African-American women and the found some results that could lower the risk of developing breast cancer.