Chicago making progress in closing racial gap in breast cancer deaths

Health Commissioner Julie Morita. | File photo

Chicago is making “remarkable” progress in a longstanding battle to improve public health—by closing the “mortality” gap between black and white women diagnosed with breast cancer.

According to a new study published by Cancer Cause & Control, an international journal of studies of cancer in human populations, Chicago made the “most progress” among nine major cities with the nation’s largest black populations in reducing “racial disparities in breast cancer mortality.”

Over the four year period ending in 2013, the mortality rate from breast cancer among black women in Chicago dropped by 13.9 percent. The gap between black and white women narrowed by more than 20 percent during the same period.

Even with the improvement, African-American women in Chicago have a breast cancer mortality rate that’s 50 percent higher than non-Hispanic white women with similar rates of diagnosis.

The persistent gap has been blamed on “structural inequities” that lead poor women, many of them minorities, to receive lower-quality mammograms or none at all. The later the diagnosis, the lower the chance of survival.

“To show progress in this area is dramatic and remarkable. We’re very pleased,” Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita said Wednesday.

“However, we’re never satisfied when there’s a disparity that remains. So we’ll continue our efforts to close that [gap] and also to continue the progress we’re making with breast cancer among all woman—not just African-Americans.”

To chip away at the racial gap, the Health Department is investing $700,000 in “community partners” charged with bolstering “comprehensive breast health services” for African-American women and others who have faced “historical obstacles to access.”

Those partners include: Cook County Health and Hospital System; Rush University Medical Center; Miles Square Health Center; Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force; Sinai Health System and Centro Comunitario Juan Diego.

Those organizations are increasing breast cancer screenings and ensuring that high-risk, medically underserved women receive high-quality follow-up treatment.

“Early diagnosis helps improve the outcome. So making sure mammography services are available so people can be screened, raising awareness so…