Susan G. Komen Announces $27 Million Initiative to Reduce Breast Cancer Deaths in African American Community



Every woman or man must be able to access and receive high-quality breast health and breast cancer care and be supported through their treatment and into survivorship.

—Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS
The Fund II Foundation is focused on helping to decrease the disparity and level the playing field in health care and treatment for African American women.

—Robert F. Smith

The Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization gathered philanthropic, civic, medical, and business leaders in Washington, DC, September 14 to formally launch a $27 million, 10-city initiative to reduce breast cancer death rates among African American women.

“African American women are almost 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women in the United States, and in some cities, that number is as high as 74%. That makes this a public health crisis that must be addressed immediately,” said Komen President and CEO Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS. “We are deeply appreciative of friends and partners who are working with us to do so.”

Partners and Supporters 

Dr. Salerno thanked the Fund II Foundation and its President Robert F. Smith for the $27 million grant that made the Komen African American Health Equity Initiative possible. “This investment in women’s health will truly save lives,” Dr. Salerno said.

Mr. Smith said that the breast cancer initiative ties strongly to Fund II’s priorities. “The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King said that the biggest injustice one can find is really in health care,” he stated. “The Fund II Foundation is focused on—among a number of pillars—helping to decrease that disparity and level the playing field in health care and treatment for African American women.”

Komen’s African American Health Equity Initiative initially targets 10 U.S. cities where mortality rates and late-stage diagnosis of African American women are highest. The goal is to reduce the mortality gap by 25% within 5 years of beginning work in each city. The Initiative will expand across the country. 

Joining Mr. Smith and Dr. Salerno were Jeri Lacks Whye, patient advocate and granddaughter of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cancer cells were taken without her permission before her death in 1951 and used for research for decades; and Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, DFAPA, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President of Pfizer.

Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS

Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS

Robert F. Smith

Robert F. Smith

The panel reflected Komen’s collaborative approach to the Health Equity Initiative, an approach Ms. Whye called critical. “Community engagement is the foundation that allows you to speak with people suffering from breast cancer disparities,” she said. “It starts a conversation that can lead to real results.”

Dr. Lewis-Hall stressed the importance of African American participation in clinical trials. “Why do more of us need to get involved in clinical trials of potential new breast cancer treatments? Because we have so many great scientific opportunities right now and so many questions. These questions will only be answered for us, by us,” she said.

More on the Initiative

The initial targeted cities are Memphis; St. Louis; Dallas; Los Angeles; Virginia Beach; Atlanta; Chicago; Houston; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia. Baltimore and Detroit have been identified as high-priority areas as the program expands over the next year. 

“We will never waver from our commitment to remove barriers of language, geography, economics, or culture for all people facing this disease. Every woman or man must be able to access and receive high-quality breast health and breast cancer care and be supported through their treatment and into survivorship,” Dr. Salerno concluded. ■



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