Women Who Perceive Discrimination Less Likely to Get Mammograms

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A large study found that African American and other minority women and men who believe they've experienced some form of discrimination in medical care are less likely to get breast and colon cancer screening than people who don't believe they've experienced discrimination in medical care.

The people in this study were African Americans, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, Asians, and Latinos living in California. More than 8,000 women, age 40 to 75, and more than 3,100 men, age 50 to 75, participated.

Women who have an average risk of breast cancer should have a screening mammogram every year, starting at age 40. All of the women in this study were 40 or older, so all of them should have had a mammogram within a year of enrolling in the study. But only 60% of the women in the study had a mammogram within one year. Only 42% of the women were screened for colon cancer screening as recommended.

Almost 9% of women in the study reported experiencing discrimination in medical care in the 5 years before joining the study. The women who reported medical care discrimination were 48% less likely to have a mammogram within a year compared to women who didn't report medical discrimination. The women who reported medical discrimination were also 34% less likely to have recommended colon cancer screening compared to women who didn't report medical discrimination.

About 6% of the men in the study reported experiencing medical care discrimination. Overall, men who reported discrimination were just as likely as men who didn't report discrimination to get recommended colon cancer screenings. But men who reported discrimination AND had one main place where they went for health care were 70% less likely to get recommended colon cancer screenings than men who didn't report discrimination.

Breast cancer in African American women is genetically different than breast cancer in white women. Breast cancers diagnosed in African American women are usually:

  • more aggressive
  • diagnosed at an earlier age
  • diagnosed at a more advanced stage

Other research has shown that that African American and other non-white women are less likely than white women to be screened for breast cancer and get the most aggressive treatment. The reasons for these differences aren't very clear. Less access to regular healthcare, as well as social and financial issues (a lack of insurance), are probably big reasons for some minority women. More than half of the people in the study reviewed here had at least some college education, about 85% had health insurance, and more than 90% reported a usual source of care. This suggests that other factors, such as perceiving discrimination in medical care, were responsible for the results.

Regular screening is the best way to find any cancer early, when it's most treatable. Don't let anything get in the way -- including medical discrimination -- of doing what's best for YOU.

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