NewsLocal NewsIn Your NeighborhoodNortheast Tallahassee


Black women at higher risk of breast cancer death than White; Tallahassee hospital working to save lives

Posted at 1:07 PM, Oct 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-27 13:07:53-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — If you're a Black woman, your chances of dying from breast cancer are much higher than if you're White.


One in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Every year, about 240,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the US, and 42,000 woman die from the disease, according to the CDC.


If you are Black, you are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than White women.


Shlermine Everidge, MD, a breast surgical oncologist for Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare explained, “part of that is access to care. Having limited resources available in their area, distrust in the system and getting treated by someone who doesn't necessarily look like you or understand where you come from. Another reason would be delayed screening - not realizing how important getting mammograms can be.”


LaQuisha Persak says she first knew something was wrong when she felt a lump in her breast. She is a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed in January 2021 and treated at TMH.


“The diagnosis itself was very shocking and devastating. It's not something you expect to hear,” Persak said.


Everidge is a doctor specializing in breast surgery at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. She graduated from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, one of the most prestigious breast cancer oncology fellowships in the country.


“If you get a mammogram, we can catch it early and get you back to your life - as opposed to catching it late, there is usually more morbidity associated with it,” Everidge said.


There's the problem of traveling to get high quality healthcare. It’s something that can be a challenge for women living in rural areas. The National Institutes of Health reports:


Rural women had the largest proportion of women diagnosed with distant breast cancer (4.94%) Compared with women from small urban (4.36%) or large urban areas (4.24%).


They have to travel three times as far as urban women for radiation therapy to treat the disease. It’s a big problem when time is of the essence, and it’s something TMH's Walker Breast Program is working to fix. The program provides a one-stop-shop when it comes to comprehensive care for breast health on TMH's campus.


Everidge added, “with the Walker Breast Program we are bringing multi-disciplinary breast treatment to the patients in the Tallahassee and surrounding area. It's a same day approach to breast cancer. You have the option of meeting with your surgeon, oncologist, radiation oncologist. We kind of go through all breast cancer cases with a fine tooth comb.”


Persak concluded, “cancer doesn't have to be a death sentence.”


Dr. Everidge said lack of money or insurance should not be a barrier to getting a mammogram or treatment for breast cancer. There are resources and programs available at TMH to help patients get the care they need.