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Partnership targets breast cancer health disparities in African American women

IU School of Medicine • 12/20/18

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana University School of Medicine and IU Simon Cancer Center researchers, as part of the IU Precision Health Initiative, have formed two new community partnerships focused on improving outreach and reducing breast cancer health disparities among African American women, who get breast cancer at a lower rate than white women but have a greater risk of dying from the disease.

Led by Bryan P. Schneider, MD, Vera Bradley Investigator in Oncology and associate professor of medicine and medical/molecular genetics at IU School of Medicine, the team of scientists at the school’s Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research are working with Indianapolis-based nonprofit organizations R.E.D. Alliance and Pink-4-Ever, Inc., to share information and resources with a goal of improving the health of African American women with breast cancer.

“These community partnerships are important to our work at IU because in order to help develop better health care, treatment and prevention strategies for African American women with breast cancer, scientists and clinicians need their input and participation in research,” Schneider said. “We need strong collaboration to figure out why African American women are experiencing poorer health outcomes and how we can work together to develop solutions that best address those findings.”

The R.E.D. Alliance, or Reaching to End Disparities Alliance, collaborates with researchers, health professionals, health care organizations, community and government agencies, and breast cancer survivors to reduce breast cancer late-stage diagnosis and death rates for African American women in Indianapolis.

Pink-4-Ever, established in 2008, is dedicated to reducing breast cancer disparities in the minority community through empowerment, education and support that helps to dispel myths about breast cancer and create an environment in which people feel comfortable talking about the disease.

Both community organizations are led by African American women who are survivors of triple negative breast cancer, which is one of the more deadly forms of breast cancer because it is more aggressive and does not yet have a targeted therapy to reduce recurrence.

Lisa Hayes, executive director of R.E.D. Alliance, said her personal experience motivates her work to help other African American women affected by breast cancer.

“Since my own breast cancer experience, and especially after the deaths of my mother-in-law and sister-in-law from breast cancer, fighting to reduce the devastating impact breast cancer has on black women has become my life work,” Hayes said. “I’m excited about this partnership with Indiana University and working together to implement solutions.”

Nadia Miller, co-founder of Pink-4-Ever, said knowing first-hand what breast cancer patients go through, she understands how important it is to advocate for under-served populations dealing with the disease.

“Being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26 and losing my sister to the disease when she was only 35 is a driver behind my commitment to breast health advocacy and education,” Miller said. “I have become a voice for the voiceless and a light for those that have lost hope.”

Initially, the partners are focused on creating more communication materials about breast cancer that resonate with African American audiences. For example, they are working to increase the availability of photos of African American women in research and co-developing culturally relevant videos and handouts aimed at reaching African American women.

Schneider, who is the leader of the IU Precision Health Initiative’s triple negative breast cancer research team and a physician scientist at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, said he hopes the four-year community partnerships will also result in the development of more personalized therapies for African American women diagnosed with breast cancer by increasing the participation of African American women in research studies and tissue collection.