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Maggie A. Smith is field medical director in GU Oncology at Pfizer, and director-at-large for the national Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), as well as nominating-chair and immediate-past president of the Chicago Chapter of ONS. Her clinical and research interest include being a voice for underrepresented and underserved populations. She is also, involved in community outreach and breast health education.

Nurses Can Empower African-American Women in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

As oncology nurses, we are uniquely positioned to proactively address the disparity in breast cancer mortality in the United States.
October is all about breast cancer awareness. The color pink is everywhere we look: pink ribbons, pink bracelets, and even pink hair. Yet with all of the awareness, African-American women are still dying at higher rates than their Caucasian counterparts.1

We as oncology nurses are uniquely positioned to be able to make a big impact in addressing this disparity in breast cancer mortality. Nurses can empower African-American women by:
  1. Encouraging them to become familiar with their bodies, especially their breasts. This will help women to become aware of their “normal” so that they can recognize when something is abnormal and take action.2
  2. Recommending appropriate breast screening. Age group, family history, race, and ethnicity must all be considered when it comes to assessing for risk and recommending screening for breast cancer. Educating African-American women on these recommendations will help with early diagnosis and can improve outcomes.2
  3. Encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle. Exercising, reducing alcohol intake, and limiting consumption of red meat all can help reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Research has also shown that exercising during cancer treatment can reduce fatigue and control weight.3
  4. Offering support and resources. Nurses can connect patients with organizations that raise awareness and offer education and support. For example, the African-American Breast Cancer Alliance raises awareness of breast cancer, and offers networking, resources, and support for African-American women and men impacted by breast cancer. The Sisters Network increases local and national attention to the devastating impact that breast cancer has in the African-American community. The Susan G. Komen Foundation saves lives by ensuring that all people receive the care they need, and supports research to prevent and cure breast cancer. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive healthcare, sex education, and information to millions of people worldwide. Lastly, the Black Women’s Health Imperative is dedicated to improving the health and wellness of the 21 million African-American women and girls in the United States—physically, emotionally, and financially.

  1. Cancer stat facts: female breast cancer. National Cancer Institute. Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results Program website. seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html. Accessed October 6, 2018.
  2. Breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.html. Accessed October 6, 2018.
  3. Patient and caregiver resources. National Comprehensive Cancer Network website. nccn.org/patients/resources/life_with_cancer/exercise.aspx. Accessed October 6, 2018.


Talk about this article with nurses and others in the oncology community in the General Discussions Oncology Nursing News discussion group.
More from Maggie A. Smith, DNP, MSN/Ed, RN, OCN
Leadership shares a unique commonality despite the profession an individual chooses; it is a universal language that is spoken despite the native tongue.
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Leadership is not always a title, it is an action.
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Putting yourself as No. 1 on your to-do list is not selfish or inconsiderate; it is your right, and it shows that you are making an informed decision to practice self-care.
PUBLISHED: Sun December 16 2018
Every year I attend the ONS Congress, and I find it to be an educational high, as I enjoy seeing oncology nurses from around the globe come together, networking, sharing best practices, mentoring, and presenting the latest and greatest data in oncology practice to our peers. This year, I will be presenting on the topic of leadership.
PUBLISHED: Wed November 14 2018
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