Susan G. Komen Philadelphia is calling on local leaders to eliminate the breast cancer mortality gap that disproportionately impacts African-American women.

The organization recently hosted the African American Breast Health Equity Initiative Philadelphia Leadership Forum geared toward forming community partnerships.

The call to action comes as African-American women are about 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women in the United States. Philadelphia ranks number nine on a list of U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest rates of breast cancer mortality and late-stage diagnoses among African Americans.

As she spoke to a gathering of about 50 corporate, government and social service leaders, Elaine I. Grobman, CEO of Komen Philadelphia, referred to these sobering statistics as appalling and unacceptable.

“We need to mount an attack in our communities and truly step it up, but with eight people on our staff we can’t do it alone and the reason you’ve been called into action is we need to work with the community leaders,” Grobman stressed.

“We need to offer training. We need to get into your events that are happening and have you and Komen share the information to the women in the shadows that aren’t listening. We can’t afford to lose our women because maybe they didn’t hear the messages.”

She said Komen Philadelphia wants to get into the community to train navigators and educate women about accessing mammograms, diagnostic and treatment services.

During the two-hour forum, four medical specialists delved into topics ranging from how the latest research in breast cancer is directed toward better treatment to reduce mortality and statistical progression in the battle against breast cancer.

During his presentation, Dr. Ari Brooks, chief of Endocrine and Oncological Surgery, director of the Integrated Breast Cancer, Pennsylvania Hospital addressed issues leading to disparities in breast cancer survival such as biological variation. He said women who have easier to treat cancers — whether they are Black or white — should do well.

“The problem is we know there is biological variation because there are more African-American women coming in with what is called triple negative breast cancer and those are harder to treat and there are also more African-American women coming in at a more advanced stage at an earlier age,” Brooks explained.

Dr. Edith Mitchell, clinical professor of Medicine and Medical Oncology, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and director of the Center to Eliminate Disparities, Sidney Kimmel Cancer, cited various studies as an example of how research and prevention has helped decrease breast cancer mortality.

Frank J. Rauscher III, PhD, deputy director of the Cancer Center, Wister Institute and Thomas J. Hardie, EdD, RN, adjunct full professor, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania Center also gave presentations.

During the forum, Meryl Weinreb, chief of Education and Public Policy, Komen Advocate in Science, spoke about the importance of research advocacy and patient advocacy.

Shyrea Thompson, senior director of strategic initiatives, Susan G. Komen, wrapped up the forum with an overview of the African American Breast Health Equity Initiative. Through the initiative, Komen is working to reduce African-American breast cancer disparities by 25 percent in the next five years in the 10 cities where the inequities are the greatest.

Philadelphia ranks ninth on the list which includes Washington, D.C.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Chicago, Ill.; St. Louis, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Houston, Texas; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas and Los Angeles/Long Beach, Calif.

“We are looking at the two codes – what’s your zip code and what is your genetic code — because those are really driving the two key factors for African-American women dying more and really telling a story to make sure that where you live doesn’t determine whether you live,” Thompson stated.

ajones@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5747