May 14, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 16

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    Partnership targets women who need assistance to cope with breast cancer

    By Deva Woodly
    News Office

    Photo by David Christopher

    Rachel Lindsey (left), dean of arts and sciences at Chicago State University, and Olufunmilayo Olopade, a breast cancer specialist at the University Medical Center, elaborate on the risk factors for women of African descent at a recent conference. African American women often get breast cancer at younger ages and in the diseaseís more aggressive forms.

    African American women in Chicago are 116 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than their white counterparts. This stunning fact came out of a study that the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force undertook in 2008, as did the finding that this shocking disparity is increasing every year.

    These findings motivated Olufunmilayo Olopade, a breast cancer specialist who has been working with patients at the University Medical Center since 1987, and Rachel Lindsey, dean of arts and sciences at Chicago State University, to coordinate a conference titled “Uniting to Address Breast Cancer Disparities in Chicago: Past Progress, Future Direction.”

    The conference, which convened Friday, April 24 at Chicago State University, aimed to get the word out about the latest information, training and research in one of the South Side communities whose residents have experienced the effects of this disparity most keenly.

    One way to improve outcomes is to talk about battling this disease in the communities that are disproportionately affected, and to attempt to address the particular needs of the women living in those neighborhoods. “The University of Chicago Medical Center is committed to the South Side, and we see a lot of women in our neighborhood affected by this disease,” said Olopade.

    One important factor of the disparity in mortality rates among women in Chicago is that women of color often find it harder to access quality, preventive medical care. “The city of Chicago is still very segregated. There are huge gaps in resources among different parts of the city, and we have found that there also are knowledge gaps among providers in terms of where specialists might be located in or near particular neighborhoods,” said Olopade. “That’s why the University of Chicago Medical Center wanted to reach out to other institutions of higher learning on the South Side.”

    Lindsey, who has survived breast cancer, was enthusiastic about partnering with Olopade because she is impressed with the approaches to prevention and the treatment of breast cancer that the University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research has taken. “Because I’ve had breast cancer, I’m very particular about the ways I think women with the disease should be treated. I have found that very few people really address the concerns women have, especially women of color.”

    Lindsey noted, “All women who get this disease have a terrible time grappling with its dimensions, but I have noticed that women of color often have a harder time because they are less likely to have good health insurance, which affects how you feel you can cope.”

    Recalling her fight against cancer, Lindsey said: “I had good health insurance and knew I was getting quality care, so I could focus on my mental outlook, diet and lifestyle adjustments. If you’re worried about the cost of basic care, that kind of reflection can seem like a luxury.” However, psychological health and lifestyle changes are an essential part of “helping women heal,” said Lindsey.

    In order to facilitate this multidimensional healing process, Olopade said it’s important to combine three elements: community information and access, academic research into better treatment options, and increased communication between community leaders, doctors, patients and other caregivers.

    “We have to unite to combat these disparities,” said Olopade, and “a part of making that kind of partnership work is effectively translating the latest research into information that ordinary people can use.”

    Drawing on the diverse talent present in the community of physicians, scientists, nurses, social workers and other caregivers, the conference produced what Olopade calls, “the beginning of a great and ongoing conversation, in which we came up with creative ideas for how to better share information with each other, which is key to reducing this disparity.”