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NASHVILLE — Breast cancer remains a leading cause of death for black women, yet many black women don’t get mammograms, which can lead to early detection and treatment.

Based on the results of a recent study by a University of Tennessee researcher, it may be because doctors who treat black women don’t suggest the screening tests often enough.

Accounting for nearly 30 percent of the new cancer cases diagnosed, breast cancer was projected to be the No. 1 cancer to strike black women in 2005, according to the American Cancer Society. It was projected to be the No. 2 cancer killer of black women, falling behind only lung cancer.

Despite the risk, “rates of mammography screening for black women have been lower than rates for their Caucasian counterparts,” said Cindy Davis, an assistant professor in the College of Social Work. Davis’ primary areas of interest are health, women’s issues and cross-cultural research. Aside from breast cancer, her research has focused on HIV/AIDS, premenstrual syndrome and eating disorders.

Using a health survey of 364 black women done by colleagues at Tennessee State University, Davis focused her research on 91 women who hadn’t received mammograms in the past year.

“Participants included black women between 40 and 84 years of age recruited for the study from churches, housing projects and a health fair at a historically black university,” Davis said. “Findings revealed that 36 percent of participants had never received a mammogram, 43 percent did not have their breasts examined by their doctor once a year, 55 percent did not perform monthly self-examinations, and 23 percent did not know how to examine their breasts for breast cancer.”

Also, Davis said, the most frequently reported reason for not getting a mammogram was that the participant’s doctor had not suggested it.

Other reasons the women gave, Davis said, included not having enough time to get a mammogram, being unable to get an appointment and lack of health insurance.

Davis discovered the women had various misbeliefs about breast cancer: 54 percent thought an operation could cause the disease to spread; 47 percent thought the treatment for breast cancer would be worse than the disease; 68 percent thought testing for breast cancer just worried women; and 52 percent said they weren’t concerned about getting breast cancer.

Davis’ findings have been published in a number of scholarly journals and trade publications, including Obesity, Fitness and Wellness Week, Women’s Health Weekly, Cancer Weekly, Health and Medicine Week and the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu
Cindy Davis, (615) 256-1885 ext. 115, cdavis3@utk.edu