BREAST CANCER: Programs Reach Out to Black Women
Alarmed by low survival rates for African-American women with breast cancer, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has created the African American Women's Initiative to support programs that improve detection and treatment in hopes that they will be replicated in communities nationwide. The breast cancer survival rate recently has increased by 6.1% among caucasian women, compared to just 1% among African-American women, according to Nancy Brinker, head of the foundation. Under the new initiative, select outreach programs will receive funding through the annual Race for the Cure, scheduled in 99 cities this year and expected to draw more than 700,000 participants. "Seventy-five percent of the funds raised from Race for the Cure stay in each community, dedicated to local projects that are decided upon by the local committee," Brinker explained, adding that the foundation only requires that the programs be dedicated to medically underserved patients. The remaining 25% is sent back to the foundation's national program to help fund peer- reviewed medical research.
Three of the programs funded under the Komen Foundation's African American Women's Initiative are described below:
- The Witness Project encourages African-American breast cancer survivors to speak with women at their local churches. "In church, people witness to save souls. At the Witness Project, they witness to save lives," says program founder Mattye Willis. "This is where women are comfortable talking about themselves. Witnesses also reach out to men through the church. Many women will move faster if the men in their lives are supportive," she added. Brinker said that since the Komen Foundation began funding the Witness Program in 1991, it has grown to 11 programs in 11 different cities. This year, the CDC granted the foundation $11 million to expand the program.
- The East-West Breast Express sends volunteers to visit bus stops and train stations. These volunteers, driving vans equipped to provide free screening and educational information, so far have reached more than 2000 people, according to Brinker.
- The Harlem Hospital Patient Navigator program enlists volunteers to help low-income breast cancer patients obtain access to care and ensure that diagnostic procedures and treatment are provided on time. "The role of the Patient Navigator is to help patients understand their options. Let us worry about the obstacles," said Dr. Harold Freeman, who founded the program after serving as head of the American Cancer Society. Outreach workers canvass beauty salons, senior centers and other community hubs and steer patients with breast cancer toward Navigators, who can arrange for emergency Medicaid coverage and provide follow-up visits. The effort has achieved significant success: of the 2,000 people screened through the program in 1997, half of whom were uninsured, the delay between a breast exam and a biopsy was just 10 days -- comparable to patients in private care -- versus 60 to 90 days in most public hospitals (Katie Donohue, American Health Line).