Breast cancer is now as common among black women as among whites, although black women continue to have a higher death rate from the disease, an American Cancer Society report says.
For decades, black women had lower breast cancer rates than whites, but that gap has narrowed in recent years, the cancer society said.
From 2008 to 2012, breast cancer rates rose by 0.4 percent a year among black women, while remaining stable among whites and Hispanics.
That means that by 2012, overall breast cancer rates among blacks and whites converged. In fact, the researchers said, rates for black women now exceed those of whites in seven states: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
In addition, black women still tend to fare worse than whites after a breast cancer diagnosis, and breast cancer death rates continue to be higher among blacks than whites, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). By 2012, death rates among black women were 42 percent higher than in white women, and this trend is likely to continue at least in the near future, the researchers said.
One expert wasn’t surprised by the findings.
“The racial disparities between survival amongst patients with breast cancer have been known for some time,” said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “It is upsetting to see that the disparities persist, despite efforts to ensure that minority women have access to screening and treatment.”
Medicine is making inroads against breast cancer, but some groups are benefiting more than others. According to the new report, from 2003 to 2012, breast cancer death rates fell 1.8 percent a year among whites, 1.5 percent among Hispanics, and 1.4 percent among blacks.
Along with having the highest breast cancer death rate, black women are also more likely to be diagnosed at later stages of the disease and have the lowest survival rate at each stage of diagnosis. According to the ACS, potential reasons for these trends include lack of regular screening and/or follow-up of suspicious results; poor access to timely, high-quality treatment; and higher rates of aggressive, harder-to-treat tumors.
Dr. Paolo Boffetta is chief of cancer prevention and control at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. He said the new report “shows more clearly than ever before how disparities between white and African-American women have worsened during in the last years, a trend which will likely continue.”
Boffetta believes the disparities exist because black women may have higher exposure to certain breast cancer risk factors compared to white women, and they often have poorer access to mammography and other types of screening, as well as effective therapies.
“Possible solutions require complex interventions targeted at reducing risk factors, improving screening, and providing access to effective treatment,” Boffetta suggested.
According to the ACS, as of Jan. 1, 2014, more than 3.1 million American women with a history of breast cancer were alive. Most of them were cancer-free, but some still had cancer and may have been receiving treatment, the report said.
There has been a 36 percent decline in U.S. breast cancer death rates since 1989, which means that 249,000 breast cancer deaths have been prevented, the ACS said.
In 2013, 69 percent of women aged 45 and older said they’d had a mammogram within the past two years. Screening rates are lower among those who are uninsured or have lower levels of schooling, and for Hispanics and American Indian/Alaska Natives.
After skin cancer, breast cancer remains is the most common type of cancer among American women, accounting for nearly one in three cancers. It is the second-leading cause of cancer death among American women, after lung cancer.
In 2015, it is estimated that about 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and there will be nearly 40,300 deaths.
The new study findings are published in the Oct. 29 issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and the accompanying consumer publication Breast Cancer Facts & Figures.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about breast cancer.