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African American Women

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you must stop and look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

— Maya Angelou

Breast cancer affects people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, but differences exist in how women of different ethnic groups are diagnosed with breast cancer and how well they survive it.

What is the risk of breast cancer for African American women?
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in African American women, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among African American women (lung cancer is the first).

African American women are more likely than white women to get breast cancer between age 24 and 40. However, they are less likely than white women to get breast cancer after age 40.

In addition, African American women are more likely than white women to die from breast cancer. In fact, African American women have the highest death rate from breast cancer of any ethnic group.

In general, a lack of health insurance is related to lower survival among breast cancer patients. Also, breast cancer patients with lower incomes are more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced stage of breast cancer and to have lower survival rates at five years than higher-income patients. For example, low-income African American women experience lower survival than higher-income African American women.

The presence of additional illnesses, unequal access to medical care, and differences in treatment may contribute to the differences in survival between lower- and higher-income breast cancer patients, and African Americans and whites (American Cancer Society Facts & Figures, 2003). Recent studies suggest that breast cancer may be biologically different in African American women compared to other groups of women.

What special challenges do African American women face?
When African American women are treated, they may be less likely than white women to receive state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. This may be influenced by the standard of care in the hospitals where they are treated (smaller hospitals and clinics versus large hospitals and cancer centers).

African American women are less likely than white women to get a mammogram because of problems with access to them and because healthcare providers are less likely to refer African American women for mammograms. Studies have found that when African American and white women use mammography equally, breast cancer is diagnosed in them at similar stages.

Compounding these problems is that because of a past history of discrimination and cultural issues, some African American women may mistrust the healthcare system.

What can African American women do?

  • If you are age 40 or above, get regular mammograms and breast exams (talk to your health care provider about how often). Spread the word to women you know to do the same. Breast cancer that is detected early is usually more treatable.
  • If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, think about seeking treatment from one of the three Comprehensive Cancer Centers in North Carolina or from another large cancer center. (See our listing of North Carolina Hospitals and Cancer Centers).
  • If you need help paying for mammograms or treatment, see Financial and Other Assistance.
  • Be an advocate for your health care. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, become informed about your diagnosis, treatment, and long-term follow-up care. Participate in making decisions about your care. Use this Resource Directory to help you learn more about your options and to find additional resources for more information.
  • Communicate as much and as openly as possible with your healthcare providers. If you are not comfortable talking openly with a provider, look for another in whom you can trust.
  • Think about attending a support group for African American women or joining an African American breast cancer advocacy organization (See Resources below). Or consider starting your own support group.

For coping with some of the cosmetic side-effects of breast cancer treatment, such as hair loss, you may want to look for individuals who have experience working with African American hair and skin. Many “Look Good…Feel Better” Programs (available at many hospitals and cancer centers in North Carolina; ask your healthcare provider) have trained cosmetologists and hair stylists who may be able to help.

There are several resources listed in Suppliers of Breast Cancer Products and Services on page 217 that offer breast prostheses and wigs designed for African American women.

Breast Cancer Support Groups in North Carolina for African American Women

If you know of other African American support groups in North Carolina, or if you are forming one yourself, please let us know at 800.514.4860 or

Alamance County

Women of Color Breast Cancer Support Group
Burlington, NC
Has various topics of interest to group members; call for meeting time and place.
Contact: Dondi Alston at 336.227.9977 or

Columbus County

Faith in Action Cancer Support Group
Hallsboro, NC
Meets 2nd & 4th Thursday at 6:00 pm. Call for location.
Contact: Armatha Shular at 910.646.4898

Durham County

Triangle Area Breast Cancer Support Group
Durham, NC
Call for more information. Also called the Triangle Area African American Support Group.
Contact: Pearl Shelby at 919.682.3316 or

Sisters Network Breast Cancer Support Group
Durham, NC
Meets third Thursday of the month; call for time and location.
Contact: Valarie Worthy 919.419.8284 or

Forsyth County

YWCA Sister Speak!
1201 Glade Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Call for more information. Local support group for African Americans with breast cancer.
Contact: Betty Meadows at 336.722.5138, ext. 232 or

Mecklenburg County

Sisters Network of the Piedmont
Buddy Kemp Caring House
242 Colonial Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28207
Meets third Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm.
Call to confirm.
Contact: Tracy Cook-Brewton at 704.865.2227 or

Wake County

Support a Sister
Rex Cancer Center
4420 Lake Boone Trail, Raleigh, NC 27607
Meets first Tuesday of the month at 6:00 pm.
Call for room location.
Contact: Latanja Williams at 919.784.6247



African American Breast Cancer Alliance (AABCA)
Founded by African American women who have had breast cancer. Call to request brochure, “Being There!” about breast health for African American women.

Black Women’s Health Imperative
(formerly the National Black Women’s Health Project)
An African American health education, research and advocacy organization that has health information, products and programs for African American women.

Breast Cancer Resource Committee
Mission is to reduce incidence and mortality from breast cancer among African American women, particularly for those who have little or no access to adequate healthcare and treatment.

Celebrating Life: African American Women Speak Out
About Breast Cancer
Promotes breast cancer awareness and information for African American women and women of color. Contact to order “Celebrating Life: African American Women Speak Out About Breast Cancer.”

Educate Our Women (Raleigh, NC)
Assists low-income, uninsured African American and Latino women in Wake County with mammograms. Provides education about breast health through Lay Health Advisors. Call for details and eligibility requirements. (2006 Komen NC Triangle Affiliate Grantee)

Intercultural Cancer Council
Supports research to eliminate the unequal burden of cancer among racial and ethnic minorities and medically underserved populations in the United States. Has fact sheets on African Americans and cancer.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC)
610.645.4567 or 888.753.LBBC (5222)
Addresses post-treatment needs of women with breast cancer through educational programs, newsletters, and a toll-free survivor’s helpline. Call to order the booklet: “Getting Connected: For African Americans Living Beyond Breast Cancer.”

Office of Minority Health Resource Center
Call the toll-free number to order the free “Breast Cancer Resource Guide for Minority Women.” Also available online at

Save Our Sisters (Raleigh, NC)
Rex Cancer Center
Contact Latanja Williams, Rex Cancer Outreach Assistant.
SOS is a group of specially trained lay health advisors from the community (many are survivors) that provides current breast health information, resources and support. To volunteer, call the number above.

Sisters in Partnership (Cabarrus County)
This group of African American lay health advisors meets the 3rd Saturday of the month at 9:00 am in the Women’s Center at NorthEast Medical Center to plan events and breast health education and outreach strategies. Contact Virginia W. Hunter, vwhunter@cabarrus health, for more information. (2006 Komen Charlotte Affiliate Grantee)

Sisters Network, Inc.
713.781.0255or 866.781.1808
A national African American breast cancer survivors organization. Focuses on education, prevention, emotional support and heightened awareness of breast cancer for African Americans.
Three chapters in NC:
Piedmont Chapter (Tracy Cook-Brewton, Gastonia, NC, 704.865.2227 or )
Triangle Chapter (Valarie Worthy, Durham, NC 919.419.8284 or )
Southeastern NC Chapter (Irene Short, Lumberton, NC 910.738.3175 or )

Books and More

The Black Women’s Health Book: Speaking for Ourselves, by Evelyn C. White, Ed. (1994). Over 50 African American women write about the health issues that affect them and the well-being of their families and communities.

Body & Soul: The Black Women’s Guide to Physical Health and Emotional Well-Being, by Linda Villarosa, Ed. (1994). Sponsored by the National Black Women’s Health Project. Addresses physical, emotional and spiritual health issues, and includes stories of real women.

Health & Healing for African Americans: Straight Talk from More Than 150 Black Doctors on Our Top Health Concerns, by Sheree Crute, editor, with foreword by Joycelyn Elders, MD (1999). Addresses everything from acne to weight problems to breast cancer. Written by and for African Americans; includes advice from more than 150 medical experts.

Natural Health for African Americans: The Physicians’ Guide, by Marcellus A. Walker, MD and Kenneth B. Singleton, MD (1999). The authors balance advice about natural health methods with the current methods of Western medicine for the African American family.

Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century: A Book by and for Women, by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1998). Covers a range of women’s health issues including breast cancer and addresses the concerns of diverse women, including women of color.

Prime Time: The African American Woman’s Complete Guide to Midlife Health and Wellness, by Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD and Gayle K. Porter, PsyD, edited by Sheryl Hilliard Tucker (2003). Focuses on wellness, disease prevention and specific treatments for ailments of African American women.

The Cancer Journals, by Audre Lorde (1980). Powerful, inspiring reflections on her breast cancer by the late African American lesbian poet. Contact Aunt Lute Books, 800.949.5883 or

Web Sites

Black Women’s Health
This site has resources, information and links for African American women and their healthcare providers.

Color and Cancer
Enlightening article about African American women and breast cancer, from Lifetime TV’s web site.

Medline Plus: African American Health
Covers news, nutrition, screening, research, organizations, statistics and other information specific to African Americans.


Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina | Third Edition 2006 - 2007

Copyright 2006, Jamie Konarski Davidson, Women Helping Women, Elizabeth Mahanna, North Carolina Institute for Public Health, and UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Portions of the Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina may be copied without permission for educational purposes only. The Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through the Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your healthcare provider.

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