Endometrial cancer is the most common type of gynecological cancer in the United States. It’s four times more common than cervical cancer and the fourth most common cancer in women. It’s also one of the few cancers in the nation that’s seeing a spike in recent years.
While Black women are just as likely to get endometrial cancer as white women, they are more likely to die from the disease.
“Within every age, within every stage of diagnosis, within every tumor type, Black women do worse,” says Dr. Kemi Doll, a gynecologic oncologist at the University of Washington, according to Mother Jones.
So why is this the case? Doll, who has spent the past seven years researching gynecological cancers believes that, similar to other diseases Black women face, the death rate is linked to how the medical establishment treats Black women.
According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Black women are less likely than white women to receive an early diagnosis for the disease, leading to thousands of them discovering their cancer only after it has spread and progressed, causing a much lower chance of survival.
Another reason is that many Black women are less able than their white counterparts to seek help from doctors. Many Black women’s confidence in the healthcare system has also been undermined by decades of difficult experiences, including a bias against believing the symptoms they describe.
Studies have found that doctors are more likely to view Black patients as medically uncooperative and that diagnostic and treatment decisions are influenced by race. “If you consider a Black woman in the US who has had a lifetime of experiences of subpar reproductive health care,” Doll says, “it might not be that a couple of drops of postmenopausal bleeding has you running to the doctor.”
Doll’s team recently conducted a study that found that Black women with access to medical care were less likely than white women to receive biopsies confirming their cancer earlier. Another found that 40 percent of the racial mortality gap in endometrial cancer may be due to inequitable surgery rates. Black women are less likely to receive surgery than white women at every stage of the disease and are in turn less likely to receive chemotherapy.
“You can either approach it from the standpoint that there is something fundamentally wrong with Black women’s bodies, or there’s something wrong with the way we treat Black women and their bodies,” says Doll. “We are not going to help women, and we are not going to solve this problem, if we don’t deal with the problem of race and racism.”
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 57,000 women will be diagnosed with endometrial cancer this year, and more than 11,000 succumb to it.
To read about Dr. Kemi Doll’s analysis of the rise in endometrial cancer deaths in the United States, click here.
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