Black women in Atlanta face greater risk for breast cancer

Breast cancer impact on Black women
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 10:29 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - While thousands of women are impacted by breast cancer each year, Black communities face a greater risk for the disease.

Black women are 42% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Genetics, lack of resources, systemic factors, and environment influence the alarming disparity.

Tiah Tomlin, a breast cancer survivor and advocate for breast health, said raising awareness is key to improving mortality rates in Black women.

“It’s truly different how the disease affects us as Black women,” said Tomlin.

In 2015, she co-founded My Style Matters, a nonprofit organization providing education and resources for Black breast cancer patients.

“I saw a lot of gaps in supportive services for young women – particularly young black women,” said Tomlin. “No sister, as we say, should walk alone.”

Black women are two times more likely to face triple-negative breast cancer, a more aggressive and deadly subtype of the disease.

April Donaldson, a mother of three, received a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis in February 2020. She underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery and believed she was cancer-free.

She was devastated when the cancer returned six months later.

“You don’t even know what questions do you ask. People ask what do you need, and you don’t know what to ask for,” said Donaldson. "

Donaldson discovered My Style Matters shortly after her diagnosis. She said the support, education, and resources from h the nonprofit were just as important as her healthcare.

“I feel like with cancer you can’t go through that alone,” she said. “That makes a huge difference I think in survival and response to treatment.”

My Style Matters is headquartered in Atlanta, which reports the largest disparity between Black and white women dying from breast cancer in a major U.S. city. Experts say environmental factors are partially to blame, from pollutants to chemicals in skin and hair products, heavily used by Black women.

“We are the biggest spender in the beauty industry. We spend nine times more than any other race in the beauty industry, yet we have the highest body burden,” said Tomlin. “You don’t know what you don’t know. Until we bring awareness to this problem, then we can bring change.”

My Style Matters provides five weeks of produce and non-toxic care packages for people undergoing treatment. Patients can also access support through peer navigation and coaching, and educational programs for cooking, limiting toxins in beauty and cleaning products, and lifestyle programs.

“We’re bringing hope to our communities,” said Tomlin. “We’re making strides, but we’ve got to do more. We have a long way to go to make sure Black women, Black people are safe.”

Providing services for Black women is also an effort to undo decades of damage from systemic racism.

“There is a distrust with healthcare because of the historical background with black people being used in things like the Tuskegee experiment and Henrietta Lacks project,” said Donaldson. “Is my doctor going to see me as a human being – as a person? That sometimes prevents Black women from seeking treatment early.”

Black women are also more likely to be insured through Medicaid. One in four Black women, or 3.3 million nationwide, receive coverage. However, beneficiaries face more frequent treatment delays.

Donaldson and Tomlin agreed spreading awareness of breast cancer’s impact in Black women is key in saving lives.

Tomlin has also created an initiative, My Breast Years Ahead, offering support and community for Black women fighting cancer through social media.

As Donaldson continues to battle her second bout of the disease, she wrote God Made Me Strong, a book to encourage families facing similar struggles.

“No matter what happens, how scary things get – there’s always brighter days ahead,” said Donaldson.