Efforts underway to increase breast cancer awareness among African-American women in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When it comes to breast cancer, African-American women are more than twice as likely to die from the disease as other women in Memphis.

"I just think we haven't raised enough awareness among our black women," says Vernica Davis of Arlington.

An Avon Foundation study said among 50 states, the racial mortality gap was worse in Memphis.

"I think that they don't think about it. A lot of times people sweep things under the rug and think hey it's gonna be OK," says Tara Arnett of Southeast Memphis.

Dr. Barry Lewis Harris, a family practitioner and CEO of Common Table Health Alliance, says several factors are behind the high numbers.

"Lack of access to care, lack of quality access to care, lack of education among that particular group. Also maybe fear of the unknown and not desiring to know their status until pushed to find out," says Harris.

It's why a massive awareness campaign has taken Memphis by storm. It includes billboards, commercials and bus posters all touting the importance of breast exams and developing a Sister Pact to remind a friend to get a mammogram.

"So really it's making sure women know how important it is they get their breast exam and also where they can go to get those done," says Veronyca Washington, who heads up the new Memphis Breast Cancer Consortium, which is working to reduce mortality disparity rates.

"Overall, we would like to decrease the disparity rate by 2 percent. We do recognize that is something that could take some years to do. It won't happen tomorrow, but we are looking in two to five years we can move that needle," says Washington.

Baptist Hospital is taking a lead. It already has a mobile mammography bus and just hired a Mammography disparity coordinator, Venecia Harris, to get information on African-American communities.

"We are diving in head-on taking our mobile mammography unit out as well as providing grant applications to assist with funding for their mammograms," says Harris.

The Memphis Breast Cancer Consortium says more than half a million women have been reached with the Sister Pact campaign. For more information, visit SisterPact.com.

You can also call 901-227-PINK to schedule mammography screenings with Baptist Hospital.

Grant applications are available for those who need financial assistance.