Research changes views on breast cancer
Research-driven outreach led by members of the MCW Cancer Center and Froedtert Hospital, in partnership with community leaders and advocates, is helping change attitudes and eliminate obstacles to breast cancer screening among at-risk African American women in central Milwaukee.
Partners (standing, L-R): Carla Harris, BSN (Columbia St. Mary’s); Phyllis Holder, MS (Sisters Network Inc., Milwaukee Affiliate); Elaine Drew, PhD (MCW); Alonzo Walker, MD (MCW); Tina Yen, MD, MS (MCW); and (sitting, L-R): Bonnie Anderson, LPN (Milwaukee Catholic Home); Sandra Underwood, PhD, RN (UWM); Rosie Coleman (Community Member); Julie Griffie, MSN (Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin). Not pictured: Amanda L. Kong, MD, MS (MCW).
African American women are more likely than any other ethnic group to have advanced breast cancer when first diagnosed and therefore face a higher risk of dying. To better understand the contributing factors, investigators with the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) Cancer Center and Froedtert Hospital joined local partners in community-based research that assessed knowledge, attitudes and behaviors related to breast cancer screening practices among African American women in the central city.
For the project, collaborators from MCW, Froedtert Hospital, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Columbia St. Mary’s, Milwaukee Catholic Home and Sisters Network Inc. partnered with four central city churches to invite women to share their views and experiences in focus groups. Their research
revealed knowledge gaps and behavioral barriers to routine screening, barriers to accessing the health care system, and barriers to understanding genetic risk.
“Part of our goal was to not just understand what is happening with breast cancer screening habits but to find ways to actually create change and make it easier for these women to get breast exams and to encourage others to do so,” said MCW researcher Elaine Drew, PhD, the project’s lead investigator. Above all, the team learned that the women responded to educational material best when presented by local women with similar ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Reflecting these findings, the research partners developed a documentary to improve breast health among this underserved population. The short film, Sharing the Wisdom: the Legacy of Breast Cancer, is told through the personal narratives of African American survivors living in Milwaukee. The women discuss reactions to a breast cancer diagnosis, the value of early detection, the relationship between family history and risk, and concerns about body image. They advocate learning about treatment options and support systems while not allowing fear, assumptions or social mores to prevent proper care.
The documentary has been well-received by community members and health care providers and is now included in breast cancer resource packets distributed in local venues including parishes and civic groups. As a pilot, the partners also introduced a health care navigator in one central city clinic to assist patients with breast cancer screening appointments, follow-up care and primary care access.
The effort was funded by an American Cancer Society grant secured by Froedtert Hospital staff and MCW collaborators. Due to its success, the investigators are considering research-based outreach for other health issues in the city. The value of this research is emphasized by breast cancer survivor Juliet Aguwa at the documentary’s conclusion: “A great author once said what you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others in the community is immortal and a legacy, so we all try to live a legacy in everything we do.”
Dr. Drew is Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Walker is the Ruth Teske Professor in Surgical Oncology and Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Diversity. Dr. Yen is Associate Professor of Surgery. Dr. Kong is Assistant Professor of Surgery. Ms. Griffie is Clinical Nurse Specialist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.