Carol Estwing Ferrans: Improving breast cancer screening access

Carol Estwing Ferrans

Carol Estwing Ferrans, PhD ’85, MS ’82, RN, FAAN, made national headlines when she helped reduce the breast cancer death rate among African American women in Chicago.

At its peak, Chicago had the biggest disparity in breast cancer deaths in the nation, with African American women dying at twice the rate of white women. Thanks in part to Ferrans’ research and advocacy, Illinois adopted new legislation to improve screening access for all. Since then, mortality rates for black women decreased nearly 14 percent in Chicago.

As the Harriet H. Werley Endowed Chair in Nursing Research—established in 1993 with a generous, seven-figure gift from the American Academy of Nursing “Living Legend” for whom it is named—Ferrans is now turning her attention to Latinas.

She is collaborating with researchers in the UIC School of Public Health to address cultural beliefs among Latinas that may prevent them from getting screened early. Among Latinas living in the U.S., breast cancer is the most common form of cancer and the leading cause of cancer death. Compared to non-Latina white women, Latinas are more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage and more likely to die.

Ferrans is also continuing work on her world-renowned Ferrans and Powers Quality of Life Index, now translated into 21 languages and published in 400 studies. Most recently, new translations in Korean and Japanese were used to survey cancer patients in both countries.

In recognition of her outstanding career, Ferrans was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame in 2014.

“Having the Werley Chair has enabled me to dive back into research in a deep way again,” she says. “It’s not just my work. It’s our work. I’ve enjoyed pulling in PhD students and young investigators to really launch their careers.”

Harriet Werley, PhD, RN, FAAN, FACMI, was the first associate dean for research in the UIC College of Nursing (1974-1979). Her gift created the college’s first named academic position.