Women learn about triple-negative breast cancer at Every Woman Matters

Women gained breast health knowledge, health screenings and resources at Every Woman Matters, Oct. 21 at Christiana Care’s John H. Ammon Medical Education Center, including an innovative new outreach tool that will enable health ambassadors to educate women in the community about triple-negative breast cancer.

The event, hosted by the Community Health Outreach Department of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center and Research Institute and supported by community partners, covered topics including the link between diabetes and breast cancer, survivorship, cancer support systems, the latest in radiation therapy, behaviors that reduce the risk of breast cancer and more.

Delaware has the highest rate of triple negative breast cancer in the nation. “Train the trainer: Triple Negative Breast Cancer Project” is a new outreach tool and presentation developed by the Graham Cancer Center’s Breast Cancer Community Research Advisory Board that teaches about risk factors and treatment, and calls for more African-American women to participate in clinical trials and other research.

Members of the Community Research Advisory Board include: (seated) Jennifer Sims-Mourtada, Ph.D, Graham Cancer Center and Linda Thomas, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; (standing) Nia Bailey, Graham Cancer Center; Pat Swanson, Graham Cancer Center; Nicolle, Surratte, NspireD; Nora Katurakes, RN, Graham Cancer Center; Margot Savoy, M.D.; and Stephanie Toland Mayo, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Currently, African-Americans account for only 2 percent of participants in these vital studies, said Margot Savoy, M.D., MPH, FAAFP, medical director, Family & Community Medicine. “We need to be a part of research studies so we don’t get left behind,” she said.

Using the acronym BRENDA, the name of a theoretical 25-year-old African-American woman, the presentation outlines the steps to reduce risk for triple-negative breast cancer:

  • Breastfeed.
  • Reduce alcohol.
  • Exercise.
  • Nutritious foods.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Achieve a healthy body weight.
Margot Savoy, M.D., MPH, FAAFP, medical director, Family & Community Medicine. (right) participated in a panel discussion with Heather Bittner Fagan, M.D. (left) lead for community engagement in ACCEL, Delaware’s Center for Translational research and Alyssa Atanacio, RD, LDN, (Center) a Christiana Care dietitian on the topic of Diabetes and Cancer — Make the Connection.

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for 15-20 percent of breast cancers, Dr. Savoy said. African-Americans are at higher risk compared to women of European and Asian descent. The disease has no known receptors, as compared to cancers that have receptors for estrogen, progesterone and HER2. Because there are no known receptors there are no targeted treatments. The current option is chemotherapy, but the disease can come back, often earlier than expected, and spread rapidly to other places in the body.

Workshops for survivors included Healthy Lifestyles — A YMCA nutrition project.


“Breastfeeding reduces inflammation in the breast,” said Jennifer Sims-Mourtada, Ph.D., director, Translational Breast Cancer Research, at the Graham Cancer Center. “The benefits are still there 20 years later.”

Attendees were asked to give feedback on the presentation so it can be fine-tuned before it is rolled out to the community. They included members of four African-American sororities — Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho. Attendees also had the opportunity to volunteer to become presenters or to champion the initiative by telling others about it.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority is on of five sororities that participates and contributes to this event annually.

“Collaborative agencies can come together in Delaware to help people in the community,” said Nora Katurakes, RN, MSN, OCN, Community Health Outreach manager at the Graham Cancer Center. “We are all working together to make this a healthier place to live.”

A presentation on the link between diabetes and cancer was led by Dr. Savoy and Heather Bittner Fagan, M.D., lead for community engagement in the Delaware CTR-ACCEL research partnership. Both diseases share the risk factor of obesity.

At least 13 cancers are associated with obesity, from brain cancer to multiple myeloma. For women, that also includes ovarian, uterine and breast cancer. While mammograms are contributing to earlier diagnoses of breast cancer, a number of other cancers are not detected until they are in advanced stages, said Dr. Bittner Fagan. In addition, overweight people are less likely to seek testing.

“A lot of these cancers we don’t have great screening for,” she said. “And as obesity goes up, screening rates tend to go down.”

The good news is lifestyle changes that prevent or reverse diabetes will cut cancer risk. That includes 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week and eating a healthy, plant-based diet.

Community Resources were available for all attendees including Power of the Purse presented by Allison Gill, Senior Manager Hospital Systems, the American Cancer Society.

Three speakers from the American Cancer Society, Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition and Cancer Support Community Delaware shared resources that are available to women throughout the state.

Cathy Holloway, vice president of Mission Delivery at the Breast Cancer Coalition, focused on survivorship, including programs that connect survivors with peer mentors.

“We talk about practical things, not just medical issues,” she said. “Where did you get your wig? How are you feeling today?”

Alyssa Atanacio, RD, LDN, a Christiana Care dietitian, showed attendees how to read the labels on food in order to prepare meals that are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and low in saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and added sugar. She also shared free online tools, such as the USDA Body Weight Planner.

“Maintaining a healthy weight is key in both cancer prevention and diabetes prevention,” she said.

This program was presented in collaboration with Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho, Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, Susan G. Komen Philadelphia and the Cancer Support Community. The conference was funded in part by a grant from the American Cancer Society.