GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - African American women have a troubling statistic when it comes to breast cancer. They are less likely than other women to get it, yet have a higher death rate.
Sometimes it takes more than just being informed. It takes a community of faith and outreach to save lives.
"When you first hear that word cancer the first thing you think is I got a death sentence," says Carol Butler, a five-year breast cancer survivor.
Which isn't far from the truth for African American women like Carol because even though breast cancer is less common, it grows more aggressively in African American women which makes it their second leading cause of death. "When I felt it, I know it was so different I know it had to be something."
Despite having mammograms, Carol said her lump seemed to appear overnight. A diagnosis showed it was Stage 3."That's how I knew I had had it for a while."
Another reason why Carol's cancer was found so late?
Just like other African American women she has dense breasts. "African American women to a certain extent are more likely to have dense tissue in their breast," says Shannon Wilson of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute. She is hoping their new program focusing on women's health will help improve the outcomes for breast cancer in the community.
"It's not just getting the exam. It's the questions you need to ask when you get to the exam. Knowing to ask, 'do I have dense breast tissue?' 'Are there additional tests that need to be done for the type of tissue I have in my breast?' Those are the types of things we need to be focusing on in the African American community."
That's where neighborhood churches come in. There's a built-in layer of trust that makes talking out about breast cancer prevention a little easier. "We partner with churches around the community to make sure that message is getting out."
Carol says while having more education is good, there's something else that needs to change too. "A lot of us, we don't go to the doctor like we should. We just think 'oh it will be alright' and don't worry about it."
Shannon hopes to change that too. "Making sure that women are also aware of making lifestyle changes that can make an impact on breast cancer."
Changes Carol hopes will encourage more African American women get their mammograms and understand the way breast cancer affects them. "Something that could save your life if you know what to do."
In adding to the high death rate for African American women is the fact that their five year survival rate is 12% less than other women.