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breast cancer, disparities, intersectionality, stress



  1. Armour-Burton, Teri
  2. Etland, Caroline


Background: African American women (AAW) are diagnosed with more aggressive forms of breast cancer when compared to White women and are more likely to die before the age of 45 years. Researchers have suggested that psychological stress could be a precursor to breast cancer. AAW experience a unique form of stress that is a result of living at the intersection of socially constructed roles of race, gender, and class (intersectionality). No studies have used the paradigm of Black Feminist Thought to examine breast cancer disparities among AAW.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine how the intersection of race, gender, and class influences mental and physiological well-being among AAW with breast cancer.


Methods: A phenomenological design was used. Ten AAW ages 45-60 years were recruited from across the United States. Semistructured interviews were conducted and analyzed using a modified Husserlian approach of descriptive phenomenology. The interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim, and themes were identified using Giorgi's method.


Results: Four themes emerged: (a) altruism (selfless giving and caring for others), (b) silent strength (strength in silence while enduring life in the intersection), (c) existential invisibility (an essential, obscured presence in society), and (d) marginalization (living at the margins of society). Marginalization manifested in two forms: (a) passive marginalization (circumstances in which women removed themselves mentally or physically from societal adversity) and (b) active marginalization (circumstances in which women were overlooked, devalued, or ostracized by others).


Discussion: This study supports the use of Black Feminist Thought to garner knowledge that adds to the discussion of breast cancer disparities. The themes identified suggest other upstream psychosocial risk factors for the development of breast cancer in AAW that stem from life within the societal intersection.