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Methodist Breast Cancer Disparity Work Makes National Headlines

On Friday, December 20, an article in The New York Times, “Tackling a Racial Gap in Breast Cancer Survival,” focused on the work Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH) and the West Cancer Center are doing to address the disparity in breast cancer survival rates in Memphis.

It’s part of a larger vision that began in January of 2012 when The West Clinic, The University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare joined to form the West Cancer Center with a vision to elevate the care of cancer patients in the Mid-South. In April of that year, an article in the journal Cancer Epidemiology documented that African-American women are twice as likely to die from breast cancer as white women, and that Memphis had the highest disparity in the nation. Methodist invited the authors to Memphis, and in June of that year, Steve Whitman and Marc Hurlburt shared the research.

“We were dismayed yet energized to engage as a group to address the issue,” says MLH Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning and Marketing, Ed Rafalski. “We are in a unique position as a healthcare system with the Congregational Health Network and patient navigation assets, both community and clinical, which we believe can help address delays in treatment. Our partnership with Komen has shown how navigation can help a patient through the maze that is our healthcare system, but much more beyond that, to have someone at your side as you battle fear, anger, mistrust and faith when you receive the cancer diagnosis has been tremendous.”

In addition to the partnership with the Susan G. Komen Memphis-Midsouth, Methodist has received funding from the Avon Foundation. The Avon grant helped to create a cancer registry with more than 165 fields, one million records and five years of clinical data.

“The early results of our work show that while we seem to be screening more African-American women since the partnership, those with positive diagnoses are waiting significantly longer than white women to begin treatment, are presenting with a higher proportion of stage III and IV cancers and are younger than their white counterparts,” says Rafalski.

Next on the horizon are plans to take the work to scale in Memphis, and additional funders are needed to continue the important work. To learn more, contact Paula Jacobson at 901.516.0503 or paula.jacboson@mlh.org.