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New project aims to decrease breast cancer deaths in north St. Louis

A woman performs a breast self-examination (BSE) to check for tumors.
(National Cancer Institute/Bill Branson)
A woman performs a breast self-examination (BSE) to check for tumors.

A new project in north St. Louis aims to lower breast cancer death rates for women of color.

Washington University sociologist Sarah Gehlert says even though nationwide white women are more likely to get breast cancer, black women are about 35 percent more likely to die of the disease.

She says in St. Louis that number is closer to 60 percent.

Gehlert says she and her project partners want to find out why low-income women in north St. Louis aren't getting the treatment they need - and then do something about it.

“So we're going to first present our findings at town hall meetings on the north side with open microphones for community feedback, and with our partners, try to turn our findings into improvements in the system, so that we can reduce the excess deaths among black women in St. Louis,” Gehlert said.

Washington University will work with community organizations and healthcare providers in north St. Louis to develop and implement the project.

Mark Sanford is the executive vice president of the Betty Jean Kerr People’s Health Centers, one of the north St. Louis healthcare providers working with Washington University on the breast cancer project.

He says researchers will ask women what happened after they were diagnosed with breast cancer, and whether they were able to get treatment.

“It brings the women into it themselves, so the women themselves will let us know that this works, this does not work. Then we will be able to take that information and roll it up into a cohesive plan that says OK, this is what women are telling us, and this is where change needs to be done,” Sanford said.

Sanford believes the project will make it easier for women of color in St. Louis to get the treatment they need.

The project is funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

For information about participating in the project, call (314) 935-3434.