Coffee with Komen – Closing the gap: breast cancer disparities

By Samilia Obeng-Gyasi, MD MPH, Surgical Breast Oncologist
IU Health Simon Cancer Center | IU Health West Hospital

In 1982, gas cost 91 cents per gallon. A first-class postage stamp cost 20 cents. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. An Office and a Gentleman and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial were playing in theaters.

And only about 30 percent of women over the age of 40 received annual mammograms.

Luckily, that number has increased dramatically over the last 35 years. Now, about 77 percent of women ages 50-74 have had a screening mammogram in the last two years. That is a huge step forward in the fight against breast cancer, since we know that detecting cancer at its earliest stages, when it is most treatable, is key to increasing survival rates. In fact, early detection and effective treatment have resulted in a 37 percent decline in breast cancer mortality in the U.S. between 1990-2013.

Unfortunately, this decrease in mortality has not affected all populations equally. While women of African ancestry are slightly less likely than women of European ancestry to be diagnosed with breast cancer, they are about 40 percent more likely to die of the disease. Many people have speculated about the possible causes of this disparity, but the underlying etiology of this disparity remains unclear.

Susan G. Komen has helped with several breast cancer disparity initiatives, including a $12 million grant allowing scientists to begin a research study of more than 20,000 women of African ancestry with breast cancer. This large-scale study looks at the role of genetic and non-genetic risk factors for breast cancer among this population. Another focus of the Komen is to increase access to care to reduce breast cancer deaths by 50 percent by 2026 through funding local grants that increase access to care.

Experts in breast cancer, public health, and related fields believe this disparity in outcomes is multifactorial. Women of African ancestry are more likely than women of European ancestry to develop aggressive forms of breast cancer, including triple negative breast cancer. Furthermore, issues such as provider bias may adversely affect the patient -physician encounter and physician treatment recommendations.   

Closing this gap is a key focus for both the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the IU Health Breast Care Team. In our partnership, we work to provide women with comprehensive imaging technology and treatment options to ensure they are getting access to the best screening and care for their specific breast cancer.

To make an appointment for your annual mammogram visit

If you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer get access to an IU Health breast surgeon within 48 Hours at

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