Breast Cancer Is Racist

“Journalists cover words and delude themselves into thinking they have committed journalism.”Hedrick Smith

The new recommendations for when women get mammograms were released by the US Preventative Services Task Force. The recommendation was met with a cacophony of responses.

This piece by NPR on the subject is atrocious. The reporting is confusing at best and misleading at worst.

At one point, the reporter states that, “no one has come up with a satisfactory model to predict breast cancer in women.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not aware of a “model” to “predict” any kind of cancer in any type of person. It seems to imply that other cancers have these cool algorithms which tell you if you’re gonna get the disease, but boobies are just left out in the cold.

In the beginning, it certainly sounds as though African-American women are more prone to more devastating types of breast cancer than other ethnic groups. There are a number of diseases which certain ethnic groups are more prone to (Tay-Sachs, for example, is more prevalent among Eastern-European Jews), so it certainly is plausible that there is an ethnic components to certain types of breast cancer.

The piece goes on to say studies show that African-American women have a higher incidence and mortality rate than white women, even when controlling for education and poverty. However, then it says that studies also show that African-American women don’t get screened for breast cancer as early as white women or as often. Since my guess is that African-American women aren’t predisposed to avoiding mammograms, it would seem the obvious conclusion is that African-American women have shitty access to the health care system (e.g. no insurance or crappy insurance) or they are adverse to the medical system. Since we already know that African-American women are more likely to be poor than white women, that makes sense.

Further, the reporter also notes that there is some question about the quality of care African-American women receive, such as whether they are referred to specialists. I certainly think that racist doctors do exist who simply don’t care about their African-American patients. I wonder, however, what the relationship between lower quality of care and lower quality of insurance (or lack of insurance) is. It isn’t racism when you discriminate against poor people.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” says Lovell Jones, director of the Center for Research on Minority health at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Well of course not. Which is why the panel recommended that women talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors and the need for a mammogram. But the report doesn’t say this.

This whole piece is just crap. First, the report doesn’t cite any studies specifically, so I’m not sure if there is a conclusion in the literature about the relationship between race and breast cancer or if some studies have found there is, while others haven’t. Secondly, the whole report seems to imply that the USPSTF recommendation is either blatantly racist (Let’s recommend women don’t get a mammogram until they are fifty so we can kill off young black women) or subtly (by just disregarding them as a group and therefore their specialized health needs). I find both of these scenarios hard to believe. Thirdly, instead of focusing on the biggest issue (that poor people have shitty or no health care), it picks at what might be racism. I’m damn sure not denying that racism exists. I’m SURE that some African-American women have been given a lower standard of care with regard to breast cancer because of their race. However, I’m more sure that if everyone had quality health care coverage, breast cancer mortality would decrease significantly among African-American women (and, ya know, Hispanic women and Jewish women and Indian women).

NPR, you can do better.

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