Black and White Women Delay Treatment for Different Reasons

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Doctors recommend starting treatment as soon as possible after breast cancer is diagnosed. Timely treatment reduces the risk that the cancer will spread and increases the chances for survival. Still, sometimes women delay treatment for a number of reasons, including cost and scheduling. But if treatment is delayed too long it can affect survival.

New research from the University of North Carolina suggests that the factors that affect treatment delays are different for black and white women.

The study was published in the July 3, 2013 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Read the abstract of “Determinants of Breast Cancer Treatment Delay Differ for African American and White Women.”

The study looked at 601 women between the ages of 20 and 74 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The women were all part of a larger study, the Carolina Breast Cancer Study Phase III, which is an ongoing study looking at 5- and 10-year survival rates in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Using information from interviews and questionnaires, as well as medical records, the researchers sorted the women into two groups:

  • women who were treated within 30 days of diagnosis – considered to have no delay in treatment
  • women who were treated 31 or more days after diagnosis – considered to have a treatment delay

Overall, black women age 20 to 49 were more than three times as likely as white women of the same age to have a delay in treatment.

The researchers found that white women were likely to have a delay in treatment due to:

  • household size
  • losing a job because of diagnosis

Black women were likely to have a delay in treatment due to:

  • the type of treatment

Both white and black women were more likely to have a delay in treatment if they had immediate breast reconstruction after mastectomy. Immediate reconstruction means that as soon as the breast is removed during mastectomy, a plastic surgeon reconstructs the breast either with tissue from another location on your body or with an implant (and sometimes both).

Based on the results, the researchers said that younger black women would benefit from steps to reduce treatment delays. An earlier study found that doctor-patient communication appeared to play an important role in treatment decisions by black women. Black women who weren’t satisfied with their communication with their doctors were more likely to delay chemotherapy. Women who said they had good doctor-patient communication were more likely to start chemotherapy sooner after diagnosis.

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, it makes sense to take the time to do some research to make sure your diagnosis is correct and your treatment plan makes sense. But it also makes sense to start treatment about a month to a month and a half after diagnosis.

If you don’t have insurance or are unemployed, you may be considering delaying your treatment because you’re worried about how you’ll pay for it. Don’t panic and don’t skip any doctor’s visits or delay your surgery. Your life may depend on it. There are resources available to help you.

Someone at your doctor’s office may be able to give you a list of organizations that offer financial assistance for breast cancer treatments and care, as well as local organizations that offer financial assistance for your practical needs, such as transportation, food, and child care.

Also, many hospitals now include patient navigators as part of the breast cancer care team. A patient navigator can help you understand and move through the health care and insurance systems. Patient navigators also can help overcome language and cultural barriers, as well as any biases based on culture, race, or age and can help you and your doctor communicate better. Ask your doctor or nurse for a patient navigator recommendation.

There is only one of you and you deserve the best care possible, given in a timely manner. Don’t let any obstacles get in the way of your treatment!

For more information on how you can get financial help, visit the Breastcancer.org Paying for Your Care pages.

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