A new study conducted by the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) identified unmet needs among African American breast cancer survivors. The results of this “first-of-its-kind” study may provide information on how to better treat specific populations in the United States.
The study, “The unmet needs of African American women with breast cancer,” looked into the effects that breast cancer treatment has on African American women. The study was conducted by CCC researcher Marlene M. von Friederichs-Fitzwater and her community partner Reverend Tammie Dynse and was published online in Advances in Breast Cancer Research in April.
“We are really trying to look at how to deliver comprehensive care to any patient that has cancer,” von Friederichs-Fitzwater said. “This study found that each woman must be treated differently. There is no ‘one size fits all’ kind of approach.”
For this study, researchers sought to assess both the medical experiences of the patients as well as their experiences with coping with the disease. The study involved interviews with 137 African American women who survived breast cancer.
Most significantly, the study found that African American women reported that their physicians did not provide adequate disease and treatment information, did not discuss clinical trials with them and did not offer access to support services.
Although 90 percent of women reported that they were satisfied with their treatment, 24 percent said that they were not satisfied with the information they received from their doctors on breast cancer and treatment options.
Further, 60 percent of women said they sought information on their own, and 43 percent said their doctor or other health care provider did not provide information about support services. Sixty-two percent said they wanted such services.
“One of the biggest issues when you are diagnosed with this disease is fear, uncertainty and anxiety and wanting to know more and be around people who are going through this experience,” von Friederichs-Fitzwater said.
African American women have both the highest incidence and mortality rate of breast cancer of any population group in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. The death rate, 33 per 100,000, is more than twice that of both Asian American and Hispanic populations.
“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer over seven years ago, I wanted and needed information and answers about cancer regarding African American women, but it was just not available in my community,” said Dynse, president and founder of the organization Carrie’s Touch, a Sacramento-based community organization for African American women with breast and other cancers.
“Talking with fellow African American breast cancer survivors, I found many felt the same way.”
Breast cancer, the most common cancer among women, involves a variety of different treatments, often combining surgery, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. While many previous studies have addressed the issue of breast cancer in African American women, those studies have mainly focused on early detection, screening, mortality and staging at diagnosis.
Both von Friederichs-Fitzwater and Dynse are grateful that the study helped provide immediate solutions, such as the need to recruit more African American breast cancer survivors to act as peer navigators for newly diagnosed women. However, they also acknowledged that this study reveals an issue that must be examined more closely with further research.
“Cultural issues and psychosocial issues need to be addressed along with the medical issues because they are often directly related to survival,” von Friederichs-Fitzwater said. “This study was just a stepping stone and will hopefully open the door to future research on this topic.”
CLAIRE MALDARELLI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.