Since its inception more than 30 years ago, the month of October has been a time to focus on awareness, education, and research efforts surrounding breast cancer and it’s effect on women around the world. Great strides have been made in the way we discuss breast health and educate women on preventative screening (a list of resources to learn more about these topics and more can be found at the bottom of this post). However, we still have a ways to go until the disease is eliminated.

Let’s start with a couple of facts. Did you know that, according to the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the U.S. and makes up 15% of all new cancer diagnoses annually? In fact, in the U.S. alone, in 2018 there will be an estimated 266,120 new cases of female breast cancer and 40,920 deaths attributable to breast cancer.

There has been a ton of research done on breast cancer that focuses around the difference in breast cancer incidence and mortality rates between the major ethnic groups in the U.S.; White females, Black females, Hispanic/Latina Females, and Asian/Pacific Islander groups. This research points to a couple of things:

  1. White and Black females have a higher incidence of breast cancer over Hispanic/Latina and Asian/Pacific Islander women.
  2. Black female mortality rates are higher than White, Hispanic/Latina, and Asian/Pacific Islander females.

Individually, these studies are incredibly important and reveal insights that can help bring awareness to the general population as well as healthcare workers and policymakers. However, with so many reports available that point to these findings, we wanted to see if we could use data to bring something new to the conversation in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

So, we wondered: what would happen if, instead of just looking at data from an ethnic group perspective, we analyzed breast cancer across these four ethnic groups in different geographical locations?

Essentially, we wanted to know if there are differences in incidence and mortality rates of breast cancer between women of the same ethnicity living in different U.S. states.

What we learned

While breast cancer affects both men and women, we focused our analysis specifically on data related to women in the U.S. We took data from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and analyzed the similarities and differences of incidence rate, mortality, and mammography screening between women age 40+ in the four ethnic groups mentioned above. (For a full explanation of our methodology, check out the full GoFigure! Report).

Breast Cancer Awareness

Our analysis revealed a large difference in incidence and mortality rates within ethnic groups for different states in the U.S.

The table above points out the difference between the minimum and maximum rates of incidence, mortality, and mammography for females within an ethnic group over a number of states. Realizing this inequality raised a red flag that, while being aware of your risk of developing breast cancer based on age and ethnicity is important, where you live is another thing you should be thinking about – but probably aren’t.

Why do these state disparities matter? Let’s say, for example, that your state has a low incidence rate and a high mortality rate for women of your ethnicity. This might indicate that the correct health systems are not put into place or given enough attention in order to handle diagnoses of breast cancer.

Similarly, there are states in which there are a high incidence rate and high mortality rate for specific ethnicities. In these states, this could mean that there is not enough awareness about mammography and early detection and/or fewer resources available within specific ethnic communities.

For many of us, myself included, these numbers are an eye-opener. It’s not intuitive to think that your state can have an impact on your breast cancer risk. What’s exciting about this analysis is that it gives women another tool in our collective tool belt to take a bit more control of our health. It also sheds a light on how each state handles breast cancer on a broader level, which can influence where to focus resources and policy reform.

What should you do with this info? I encourage every one of you to have look at the data for yourself in our interactive dashboard and think about what can be done on a state level as well as a personal level for yourself, your family, and your friends.

As the saying goes, knowledge is definitely power.

Speaking of knowledge…

Research and data does an exceptional job of highlighting patterns and trends in breast cancer incidences and mortality. However, with a wealth of knowledge out there it can often be overwhelming for women to take control of their breast health – in preventative care, after diagnosis, and into recovery – without the proper understanding of the resources available.

So, what can you do? Educate yourself about how to self-examine, where you can access screening services, how to get involved in advocacy organizations, and where to find support groups for breast cancer patients and survivors. Here are some resources to get you started:

Susan G. Komen The largest breast cancer organization in the US, the Susan G. Komen website can provide you with everything from screening and detection information, survivor resources, financial assistance and insurance, and a breast care helpline among a myriad of other materials.

Planned Parenthood Delivering vital reproductive health care and education worldwide, the Planned Parenthood website gives comprehensive breast cancer resources as well as easy access to book a breast examination at a health center near you.

American Cancer Society A nationwide voluntary health organization, the American Cancer Society has general resources as well as resources for more specific scenarios such as finding breast cancer during pregnancy and breast reconstruction surgery information.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer A national 501 nonprofit organization, LBBC works with women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and their caregivers throughout diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. You can get support, join educational programs and events, and learn with resources specifically targeted for someone who has been diagnosed.

Download the full report See the interactive dashboard
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