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New Study Links Race and Delayed Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Thursday, October 7, 2010

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Kimberly Seals Allers

It's breast cancer awareness month. And for all the much-needed talk and fundraising done to help raise awareness about this important women's issues, a new study shows a troubling link between race and breast cancer diagnosis.

African American women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed at later stages of the disease and are more likely to die from it. Researchers have long wondered why and considered lack of health insurance as a likely factor. Yet, a troubling new study says that race and/or ethnicity -- rather than insurance status – is the leading cause in these delays in breast cancer diagnosis in minority women.

Researchers at George Washington University in Washington say they were surprised to find among women with health insurance, African-American and Hispanic women experienced greater delays in diagnosing breast cancer than Caucasian women.

The number of days from abnormal screening to definitive diagnosis for those with private insurance was 15.9 days for white women, 27.1 days for black women and 51.4 days for Hispanic women.

The most staggering and disturbing disparity was among women with government insurance. In that group, delay times were 11.9 days for white, 39.4 days for black and 70.8 days for Hispanics. Among women without insurance, times were 44.5 days for white, 59.7 days for black women and 66.5 days for Hispanic women.

"We thought having health insurance would even the field among all women," researcher Heather Hoffman said in a statement. "Insured women should have had the same rapid evaluation regardless of race and ethnicity."

The study shows even further, the effects of race and ethnicity on a woman's health outcomes. And while researchers probe medical causes, there must be a deeper dive into the systemic bias and racism that exists among medical professionals and healthcare providers.

Far from a level playing field, women of color are battling against forces they can't see or control to have equitable healthcare.

So, now what?