Every June, without fail, Diane Walker got a mammogram. Cancer ran in her family, she said. Even her mother had it. Determined not to be next, she went year after year. She tested negative, year after year.
But in 2003, freshly retired, Walker and her husband went on a traveling spree. Walker went to the Bahamas, Bowling Green, Ky., back to her hometown of Waycross, Ga. So caught up relishing her retirement, she said, she went everywhere, except to her doctor’s office....
In the early 1980s, black and white women with breast cancer in Chicago died at roughly the same rate. Thanks to improvements in detection and treatment in the 1990s, the mortality rate for white women fell sharply — but it stayed about the same for black women. Between 2005 and 2007, the death rate for black Chicago women with breast cancer was 62 percent higher on average than for white women, according to a report by the Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago. From 1999 to 2005 in Chicago, an average of 90 more black women died of breast cancer than white women annually, according to a local task force.
Experts attributed the troubling trend — the widest breast cancer mortality gap of any major city in the nation — to a number of causes, key among them a lack of access to quality mammography and less access to quality treatment once diagnosed.
But in the past 10 years, partnerships between the city and groups like the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force, founded in 2007, were created to reduce these disparities. Chicago now leads the nation in reducing the disparity in deaths among black women, said Anne Marie Murphy, the task force’s executive director — down from that high of 62 percent to 39 percent between 2011 and 2013, the most current period for which data are available.
“When we started, Chicago had disparity in breast cancer mortality that was higher than (the national) average,” said Murphy, who holds a doctorate in molecular genetics. “And though women biologically haven’t changed in that nine years, the system has.”
Now, Murphy said, Chicago is addressing the disparity with increased funding for quality mammograms, enhanced education and outreach programs, and other supportive services. This year, the city Department of Public Health invested $700,000 to increase breast health services for populations that have faced difficulties accessing quality care.