Sutter Health announces expansion of breast cancer services

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In response to a $4 million anonymous donation to Alta Bates’ Carol Ann Read Breast Health Center, Sutter Health on Tuesday announced an expansion of its services to fight breast cancer at its three Bay Area hospitals in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness month.

As part of the expansion, Better Health East Bay, a Sutter Health philanthropic foundation, is forming a partnership with Community Health Charities, Susan G. Komen Foundation and Black Women’s Health Imperative to raise matching funds to provide increased health services for women with breast cancer in the East Bay, including Berkeley. More funding is being put toward 3D mammography, patient navigator support and stereotactic biopsies, with a focus on preventing and treating breast cancer among women of color.

“We’ve done a great job, yet we all know that we are leaving some women behind,” said Jim Hickman, CEO of Better Health East Bay. “Women of color in particular in our community still face barriers to access and care and surviving when faced with the prospect of breast cancer.”

According to Hickman, African-American women experience a 41 percent increased breast cancer mortality rate compared to other populations of women. Black women typically have more dense breast tissue, which makes cancer more difficult to detect early on using traditional mammography devices, said Rae Oglesby, spokesperson for Black Women’s Health Imperative.

Antoinette Harris, a member of Susan G. Komen’s board of directors and a stage three breast cancer survivor, said that although she was able to support herself through treatment, many other women do not have the ability to fund these services themselves.

“I don’t mind writing that $20 check as a co-pay, I don’t mind writing that $200 check to get admitted to the hospital,” Harris said. “That’s not a problem for me, but for many women, that’s an issue. I didn’t have to make a decision — do I feed my family or do I take a pill?”

3D mammography services, which will expand to breast cancer health treatment centers across all three East Bay hospitals, greatly improve breast cancer detection rates for Black women, according to Oglesby.

The Carol Ann Read Breast Health Center opened its doors in 2008 and is designed to provide a peaceful setting for patients faced with the prospect of breast cancer to process their diagnoses.

“Finding out you may be at risk of cancer and finding out you have cancer can be a very jarring, lonely, nerve-racking experience,” Hickman said. “We try to create a place for women and men where they feel supported with coaches who can support them through the waiting period … while our clinicians are fighting the disease.”

One in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer, according to a Sutter Health press release.  Breast cancer is also a leading cause of death among African-American and Hispanic women.

“My hope is that we can show in three years (that) we can increase the number of women who are being screened for cancer, and that we reduce the number of women showing up with late-stage cancer,” Hickman said. “The sooner we find it, the sooner we can treat it.”

Cassandra Vogel is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected].