Understanding and effectively addressing breast cancer in African American women: Unpacking the social context

Authors

  • David R. Williams PhD, MPH,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
    3. Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
    • Corresponding author: David R. Williams, PhD, MPH, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, 6th floor, Boston, MA 02115; dwilliam@hsph.harvard.edu

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  • Selina A. Mohammed PhD, MPH, RN,

    1. School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Washington Bothell, Bothell, Washington
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  • Alexandra E. Shields PhD

    1. Harvard/MGH Center on Genomics, Vulnerable Populations, and Health Disparities, Mongan Institute for Health Policy, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • We thank Maria Simoneau, Liying Shen, and Bobak Seddighzadeh for their assistance with preparing the manuscript.

Abstract

Black women have a higher incidence of breast cancer before the age of 40 years, more severe disease at all ages, and an elevated mortality risk in comparison with white women. There is limited understanding of the contribution of social factors to these patterns. Elucidating the role of the social determinants of health in breast cancer disparities requires greater attention to how risk factors for breast cancer unfold over the lifecourse and to the complex ways in which socioeconomic status and racism shape exposure to psychosocial, physical, chemical, and other individual and community-level assaults that increase the risk of breast cancer. Research that takes seriously the social context in which black women live is also needed to maximize the opportunities to prevent breast cancer in this underserved group. Cancer 2016;122:2138–49. © 2016 American Cancer Society.

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