Video produced by Todd Johnson>

For Dr. Kathie-Ann Joseph, going into breast cancer research offered the double benefit. For her, it was a challenging medical discipline, but also a way to influence her community – a group that is often prone to more aggressive forms of breast cancer. Her inspiration for working in the field was fueled by the death of her mother, a former nurse who lost her battle with cervical cancer.

Working at Harlem Hospital between her junior and senior year at Harvard opened Joseph’s eyes to the many people, particularly blacks, who could not afford health insurance. For them, the lack of testing and treatment increased their potential to develop health issues.

“I was meeting women who were in their 70s, late 60s, 80s even, who had never had a pap smear, who had never had a mammogram,” she said.

For the past five years, Dr. Joseph, in conjunction with Columbia University, has hosted the annual Breast Cancer in Women of Color conference in New York City.

The free event, aimed at the public, offers a forum where panelists and guest speakers discuss treatment options and where patients share their experiences and survival stories. Joseph also works with a program at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center that offers free cancer screenings for the uninsured.

The issue of black women receiving poor health care is particularly alarming because breast cancer generally hits African-American women earlier and more aggressively than it does white women, even though white women tend to be most susceptible to the disease.

Joseph is working to understand this phenomenon by attempting to determine which biological factors play a role in black women and white women living with the disease.

In Joseph’s research, pieces of tumors from diagnosed patients are sent to a lab, which profiles genes in the sample to determine the likelihood that the cancer will return. This research is just one piece in the complex puzzle of finding a color-blind cure for breast cancer.

“I can only hope that my research will make some significant contribution, even if it helps to attack it from one angle,” Joseph said in an interview with “If it sheds some light on treatment of breast cancer and how it affects African-American women, I [will] feel like I’ve accomplished something.”

Article by Keosha Johnson