Breast cancer in black women seeing higher rates of tougher to fight cancer

Breast cancer in black women seeing higher rates of tougher to fight cancer

GARLAND -- Inside a medical park in Garland, is a place that Sylvia Newsome would rather not be. It’s where she spends a lot of time just waiting.

"It’s all part of the process, you just have to be patient!" she said.

As anyone who is a patient knows, you do the things you don’t want to for a reason. To fight a battle you didn’t ask for. Which is why last year Newsome canceled her birthday vacation with her husband.

"We wanted to go to back to Hawaii for my 50th but God had other plans for me," she said.

That plan was stage two Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

"Lot of tears from myself and my husband," said Newsome. "You just get to the point where you’re tired of crying."

Her diagnosis came one year ago, last March. Six months before that, she had a clear mammogram. But doctors said her dense breast tissue made problems hard to see.

"In February, I was doing a self-examination and that’s when I discovered a lump," she said.

Further scans found it easily and Newsome became the latest woman in her family to hear the devastating news.

Her mother was diagnosed at 70 with a different type of breast cancer. So were her two cousins, in their 30's and 40's. Both of them, Darla and Helen, passed away.

Their pain is shared by many African American families, who continue to see more of their women fight the worst of the disease.

"It’s still a little bit of a mystery as to why this is occurring in this population," said Dr. Michael Grant.

Dr. Grant is the Chief of Breast Surgery at Baylor University Medical Center. He says nationally white women are more commonly diagnosed with breast cancer. But black women are more likely to be diagnosed with forms that are harder to treat, including Triple Negative, like Newsome. The mortality rate is also substantially higher, with 30 out of every 100,000 patients dying, compared to 21.

For numbers in North Texas, WFAA looked at the most recent complete data from the Texas Cancer Registry, for the 2013 year. It showed that 360 black women in Dallas County were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 99 died from it.

In Tarrant County that same year, 147 were diagnosed, and 27 died from it. 

"When we looked at this years ago we thought well, this is probably just trouble with access to care, it’s possibly socioeconomic factors. It seems that the story’s a little bit deeper in that," said Dr. Grant. 

Some international researchers believe the story could reach back generations to the age of slave trade from Africa.

A team of doctors presented a study, the Society of Surgical Oncologists last year, which found that African American women with West African ancestry were more likely to get triple negative breast cancer.

The research is fascinating, and could help find people like Newsome new treatments, someday. For now, she’s happy to have a double mastectomy, two rounds of chemo and radiation in her past.

That trip to Hawaii will have to wait another year.

This is not the life Newsome hoped for in her 50's, but it’s the one she’s been given. She intends to keep doing what she has to for her own battle, in memory of the ones who’ve gone before. 

"I know they want me to go on, fight on, do the best that I can and be the best that I can be," said Newsome.

For more information on breast cancer in the black community and support resources, visit the Sisters Network Dallas

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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