(Courtesy Photo)

The American Cancer Society is embarking on an unprecedented initiative spanning 20 states, including the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, to investigate the troubling disparities in cancer survival rates among Black women.

Despite overall declines in cancer deaths, Black women continue to face disproportionately high mortality rates, a phenomenon the organization aims to address through its newly unveiled VOICES of Black Women study.

“While cancer deaths have declined, Black women maintain a high death rate,” said Dr. Lauren McCullough, co-principal investigator and visiting scientific director at the American Cancer Society, during a recent briefing. 

“With few exceptions, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage cancer, aggressive tumor types, and have higher cancer-specific mortality rates than other women,” McCullough added.

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This disparity is especially pronounced in breast cancer, where Black women face a 40% higher mortality rate than white women despite having a lower rate of diagnosis by 4%.

Moreover, Black women are 60% more likely than white women to succumb to cervical cancer and nearly twice as likely to die from endometrial cancer.

The VOICES of Black Women study aims to enroll over 100,000 Black women aged 25 to 55, making it the country’s most significant endeavor of its kind. Participants must be cancer-free upon enrollment and will be tracked for 30 years to examine the impact of medical history, lifestyle factors, and experiences of racism on cancer risk and mortality.

“To be eligible for the study, participants must live in one of the 20 states or Washington, D.C., which together account for more than 90% of the U.S. population of Black women ages 25 to 55,” McCullough clarified.

The initiative seeks to confront historical injustices in medical research, which have often excluded or exploited Black participants. McCullough referenced past instances of medical exploitation, including the Tuskegee experiment and the unauthorized use of Henrietta Lacks’ cells.

The study allows individuals to opt out of providing medical records, and their identities will remain confidential in published research. Officials said this would safeguard participants’ privacy and ensure ethical oversight, 

A brief registration on the study’s website precedes a thorough survey covering medical history, lifestyle choices, and encounters with racism and discrimination.

Enrollment is open in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

“This isn’t just a study; it’s a collective commitment to understanding and improving the health of Black women across the nation,” affirmed cancer society officials. “And that change starts with you.”