New Tool Helps Black Fight Breast Cancer
Physicians at Howard University Hospital and Medical Tactile Inc., offer free Sure Touch Breast Exams during last month's annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest.

One in eight women will be diagnosed in her lifetime with breast cancer.

And for African-American women, instances of death are higher, with a survival rate that is the least of any racial or ethnic community.

It is why physicians remain adamant about regular exams, a procedure that may have gotten a little easier at Howard University Hospital, where doctors are now offering the Sure Touch Breast Exam, a pain-free way to perform a clinical breast exam, one that can also be done in an office setting.

“A handheld sensor is moved gently across the breast and underarm area,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, the division chief of general obstetrics and gynecology, director of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery and associate professor at Howard University Hospital in Northwest.

“Multidimensional color images of the normal breast tissue and any lumps appear on a computer screen like a laptop or tablet so that the clinician is able to view size, shape, hardness and location of any suspicious lump,” Smith said.

Because many African-American women forgo or avoid testing, they are more likely to be diagnosed in an advanced stage, which results in a mortality rate that is 40 percent higher than white women’s, according to research performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Also, because of genetic differences in the tumors, a recent study suggests that black women are more likely to develop aggressive forms of breast cancer than white women.

The finding that genetic characteristics of more aggressive tumors may be more prevalent among black women could help explain racial differences in survival rates, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The researchers said their findings could help scientists develop more targeted treatments for the disease.

Previous studies have already found that, as compared with white women, black women have a higher prevalence of breast cancers that do not respond to hormone therapy – so-called “triple-negative” breast cancers.

The study reports that black breast cancer patients also have a “significantly higher prevalence of the TP53 driver mutation, basal tumor subtype and greater genomic diversity within tumors, all of which suggest more aggressive tumor biology,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Tanya Keenan, of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, said in a news release.

“The higher risk of tumor recurrence that we observed among African-American women was reduced when controlling for those factors, suggesting that these genomic differences contribute, at least partly, to the known racial disparity in the survival of African-American and Caucasian breast cancer patients,” Keenan said.

Advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer have reduced the overall death rate of the disease, but this positive trend is less apparent among black women, the researchers pointed out.

It’s that research and other studies that render the Sure Touch Breast Examine all the more important, medical officials said.

Physicians at Howard University Hospital and Medical Tactile Inc., the maker of Sure Touch, rolled out the new tool and offered free Sure Touch Breast Exams during last month’s annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference.

The painless procedure uses radiation free technology to identify and digitally map abnormalities of the breast. It’s performed in less than 10 minutes with immediate, objective, reproducible results, Smith said.

“The technique has been cleared by the FDA,” Smith said.

In a study of 1,155 woman presented at the 2014 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, Sure Touch was found to be comparable to ultrasound (84 percent) in accurately detecting breast cancer 82 percent of the time versus manual exam performed in the office (67 percent) and mammography (74 percent).

“I believe that all lumps that are present greater than 7 [millimeters] will be detected by the Sure Touch Exam,” Smith said.

Finding an accurate screening exam, which African-American women are likely to do because of the pain-free and radiation-free nature is paramount, particularly given the data showing that women of color are more likely to be diagnosed with late stage breast cancer versus their white counterpart, he said.

“Patients overwhelmingly respond positively to the Sure Touch exam because there is no pain with a soothing technique,” Smith said.

“The medical community is excited about the transformational potential of Sure Touch. It’s easy to use and could potentially dramatically impact the disparities in breast disease.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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