SelfMade Health Network Partners with Meharry Medical College to Combat Breast Cancer Disparities

Named one of SelfMade Health Network's Regional Resource Lead Organizations, Meharry Medical College leads the fight in eliminating breast cancer health disparities in African-American women in Tennessee.

HAMPTON, VA., Sept. 15, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Reducing advanced stage female breast cancer is one of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Healthy People 2020 national objectives; an initiative dedicated to improving the lives and health of all Americans. Although breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, breast cancer mortality rates are the highest among African-American women, followed by Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.(1)

SelfMade Health Network's Regional Resource Lead Organizations (RRLOs) are selected based on their ability to advance Healthy People 2020 objectives geographically and culturally to eliminate health disparities across adversely affected regions, states and counties. Meharry Medical College, the nation's oldest historically African-American medical colleges, has been tasked with serving Tennessee, where African-American women are disproportionately affected by breast cancer late-stage diagnosis and subsequent mortality rates.

Meharry Medical College's Vice President of Faculty Affairs and Development, and Family and Community Medicine Professor, Patricia Matthews-Juarez, Ph.D., has been actively working to create, promote, and sustain health equity for African-American and other underserved women across Tennessee and will act as a key member of this project.

Among the country's 25 largest cities, the breast cancer mortality disparity is highest in Memphis, Tennessee, where African-American women are twice as likely to lose their lives to breast cancer as Caucasian women.(2) Several critical factors associated with higher breast cancer mortality rates are lower median household income, as well as financial and geographical barriers to care.

Serving as a regional hub of engagement, training, dissemination, and community-clinical linkages, Meharry Medical College has taken on an important role to reduce breast cancer disparities among African-American women and low-resourced female populations. In collaboration with its partners, efforts are currently underway in seven priority Tennessee counties, including: Haywood, Williamson, Knox, Fayette, Lauderdale, Davidson (in Nashville), and Shelby (in Memphis) to address breast cancer screening, treatment and survivorship.

"The reduction of breast cancer mortality overall in Tennessee is our ultimate goal. We can achieve that by increasing awareness, as well as improved access to screening and culturally-relevant education. More black women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Nashville than Memphis, yet Memphis has higher mortality rates. We're focused on bringing both of those numbers down," Dr. Matthews-Juarez says.

Dr. Matthews-Juarez says, "Community engagement efforts are targeted toward increasing the number of African-American women in Tennessee who will change their breast screening-seeking behavior related to mammography services. While screening is not the total answer, it is an important step in the right direction for improving early detection and breast cancer control among African-American women."

Dwana "Dee" Calhoun, M.S., SelfMade Health Network Director adds, "We are excited about advancing health disparity efforts in Tennessee through this partnership with Meharry Medical College. It is a historic academic institution with a commitment to economically disadvantaged communities, not to mention one of the nation's top five major educators of African-American primary care physicians."

Dr. Matthews-Juarez adds, "As a RRLO, we are working to improve knowledge and awareness, especially among at-risk black women about early detection by engaging black breast cancer survivors in the priority counties, where too frequently breast cancer is diagnosed at later stages. We want to change the fact that our Tennessee women are dying at rates greater than the national and county averages."

"As we partner with the Health Disparities Research Center of Excellence at Meharry, we look forward to low-resourced women residing in cities and rural towns remaining physically active, as well as maintaining employment and living longer following an earlier breast cancer diagnosis. We are honored to team up with Meharry Medical College, who has continually demonstrated their commitment to exploring solutions to address the intergenerational cycle of breast cancer disparities among Tennessee grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and wives," said Calhoun, M.S. says.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Breast Cancer Rates by Race and Ethnicity,
2 White-Means, S., Rice, M., Dapremont, J., Davis, B., & Martin, J. (2016). African-American Women: Surviving Breast Cancer Mortality against the Highest Odds. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(1), 6.

SelfMade Health Network is a national network of dedicated organizations, businesses, service agencies, academic institutions and communities seeking to conquer tobacco-related health disparities and expand the promotion of cancer prevention, screening, treatment and survivorship in vulnerable populations. It is our mission to educate, empower and mobilize regions, networks, communities and systems leading to a healthier world, workforce and generation free of preventable lung, colorectal and breast cancers. For more information, please visit or follow us Twitter at @SelfMadeHealth. Individuals and organizations interested in joining SelfMade Health Network or subscribing to our communications may email us at


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