By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Erica Stringer-Reasor, M.D., an assistant professor of Medicine the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, wants to get the word out about breast cancer and help decrease the mortality rate for women of color.
Black and Latino women are more likely to live in areas that lack health care, which could account for why breast cancer affects women of color more, she said.
“Once patients feel a lump in their breast or get an abnormal mammogram, they’re being treated in areas where they [may not] have access to good imaging modalities, like diagnostic mammograms, or physicians who can see them quickly to perform biopsies. We know that a delay in care also affects outcomes,” Stringer-Reasor said. “At UAB, we try to put a lot of emphasis on community outreach, really getting down to preventing the disease and detecting it early.”
To further help get the word out about breast cancer, Stringer-Reasor served as this year’s Ambassador of Hope for Brenda Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB), which held its 11th Annual Sistah Strut Walk on September 24 at Birmingham’s Legion Field Stadium.
BBBB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting people with breast cancer, as well as providing education and promoting early detection of breast cancer in minority, low-income, and underserved communities.
“It’s an honor to be an ambassador and advocate, [one who] is a Black female and a Black female physician,” Stringer-Reasor said. “Getting together for this very important cause is a good opportunity for patients, families, advocates, and people from the medical field to try to change the dialogue and decrease mortality rates in Black women.”
The assistant professor and M.D.—who is also the wife of Geno and mother of Ava, 7, Harrison, 5, and Olivia, 3—believes her role as a physician is important on several levels.
“Many studies have shown that there is a lot of guided trust when patients receive care from providers, they feel like they have something in common with; that can be someone who looks like them, someone who listens to them.
“As a young Black female physician determined to change the paradigm of how patients are treated in general, I want everyone to have good access to care—particularly Black women—as well as access to good clinical trials, timely care, and the ability to be educated about their disease even before it happens.”
Stringer-Reasor was born and raised in Birmingham in a two-parent household. Her father was a computer programmer, and her mother was a nurse.
“My mom would come home and talk about stories from the hospital and always constantly talk to us about different things in the medical field, too. Naturally, I was inclined toward the medical field,” said Stringer-Reasor, who has two older sisters: Kimberly Stringer, a developmental pediatrician at Children’s of Alabama, and Jennifer Moore, an investment banker and business owner.
“People always ask how I got into medicine,” Stringer-Reasor added. “It’s simply because I would watch my sister go to a local hospital as a candy striper, [a hospital volunteer who helps the nursing staff at a health care facility by handling simple but important non-medical tasks].
Stringer-Reasor remembers wanting to go with her sister to volunteer, as well.
After graduating from Shades Valley High School in 2000, Stringer-Reasor attended Auburn University, where she met a close friend who was instrumental in pointing her toward the medical track.
“She was assigned to me as peer mentor … through the science program.”
The friend, who would later die of colon cancer, convinced Stringer-Reasor to apply to the University of South Alabama (USA) College of Medicine: “The following year, I applied for the summer [Pre-Professional Enrichment and Recruitment Program].”
Focused on Women’s Health
Being by her friend’s side who had colon cancer, “really got me thinking about women’s health and why cancer affects young women, specifically, young Black women differently,” said Stringer-Reasor. “It can come so aggressively so quickly.”
While attending the summer program at USA, she developed friendships with several students who were looking to go to medical school—just like she was. Stringer-Reasor graduated from Auburn University in 2004 with a degree in biomedical science. Four years later, she graduated from the University of South Alabama with a Doctor of Medicine degree.
In her role as an assistant professor at the UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, Stringer-Reasor teaches her trainees to always discuss regular screening with patients.
“There are a few cancers [for which] we have good screening techniques: one of them is the mammogram for breast cancer, and the other is the Pap smear for cervical cancer,” she said. “We also have good screening for colon cancer, as well, via colonoscopy.”
Stringer-Reasor also educates trainees about early detection, a key focus of events like the BBBB Sistah Strut, where people can stop at booths from surrounding hospitals and other community groups that provide valuable breast cancer awareness information.
“We have to have events like this to raise money and raise awareness and community for screening modalities and where to get treatment, [as well as] how to get treatment effectively and what should patients ask their physicians,” said the doctor.
Encouraging Healthy Steps
According to Stringer-Reasor, the mortality rate for women with breast cancer has increased, especially among Black women.
“If you are diagnosed with breast cancer and you are a Black woman, you have a 40 percent higher chance of dying from the disease than a Caucasian woman,” she said. “We think there are some social determinants of health, such as where you live, where you work. … [There also] may be some induced stressors, including the food you eat or the stress you receive just in your environment.”
Stringer-Reasor encouraged women to take some preventive steps.
“[There are] some biological risk factors you can’t take away. If you have a family history of breast cancer or you have positive genetics, such as genes like [breast cancer 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer 2 (BRCA2)], you cannot change those things,” she explained. “But if you know your family history, if you know someone in your family that’s tested positive for hereditary cancer syndrome, I encourage you to talk to your primary care physician early to see if you are a candidate for genetic testing or even early mammograms.”
Diet is also a key preventive measure, said Stringer-Reasor.
“The African American diet and American diet tend to be high in fat,” she said. “One thing we all can do is decrease the fat intake, learn to cook more at home and [eat] healthier. Another thing is to get about 150 minutes of exercise a week [to reduce the body’s inflammatory response] and have a healthier lifestyle, which we know also decreases the risk of breast cancer.”
Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting people with breast cancer, as well as providing education and promoting early detection of breast cancer in minority, low-income, and underserved communities. To learn more about BBBB, visit brendasbrownbosombuddies.org.