Place Is Power: Investing in Communities as a Systemic Leverage Point to Reduce Breast Cancer Disparities by Race

Matthew Jay Lyons, Kennesaw State University
Senaida Fernandez Poole, University of California Office of the President
Ross C. Brownson, Washington University in St. Louis, George Warren Brown School of Social Work
Rodney Lyn, Georgia State University


Racial disparities in breast cancer present a vexing and complex challenge for public health. A diverse array of factors contributes to disparities in breast cancer incidence and outcomes, and, thus far, efforts to improve racial equity have yielded mixed results. Systems theory offers a model that is well-suited to addressing complex issues. In particular, the concept of a systemic leverage point offers a clue that may assist researchers, policymakers, and interventionists in formulating innovative and comprehensive approaches to eliminating racial disparities in breast cancer. Naming systemic racism as a fundamental cause of disparities, we use systems theory to identify residential segregation as a key leverage point and a driver of racial inequities across the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health. We call on researchers, policymakers, and interventionists to use a systems-informed, community-based participatory approach, aimed at harnessing the power of place, to engage directly with community stakeholders in coordinating efforts to prevent breast cancer, and work toward eliminating disparities in communities of color.