Improving Blacks' Breast Cancer Survival
Upgrading Care of Diabetes, High Blood Pressure May Help
Oct. 11, 2005 -- Black women with breast cancer have shorter survival spans
than white women, and this may be related to other medical conditions, a new
The study appears in The Journal of the American Medical
Association. It included about 900 black and white women with breast
Over 10 years, more black women than whites died -- and not just from breast
cancer. Other health problems -- especially diabetes and high blood pressure --
seemed to contribute to much of the black-white survival gap.
In fact, most black patients died of health problems unrelated to cancer,
the study shows.
The researchers included C. Martin Tammemagi, PhD, of Canada's Brock
University in St. Catharine's, Ontario.
Black-White Breast Cancer Survival
Breast cancer is the most common cancer for American women (except for
nonmelanoma skin cancer).
In the U.S., breast cancer is most often seen in white women. But black
women are more likely to die of the disease.
"Although breast cancer survival has improved over the last 30 years,
disparities in breast cancer survival between blacks and whites have not
declined and remain sizeable," write the researchers.
From 1995-2002, nearly 90% of white breast cancer patients survived for at
least five years. That percentage was smaller for blacks (75%), the researchers
The reasons for ethnic gaps in breast cancer survival
aren't fully understood yet.
Other studies have shown that black women are often diagnosed at later,
harder-to-treat stages of breast cancer and have more aggressive breast
cancers. Black women may also face problems getting top-quality medical care.
Other researchers have suggested that genetics could also be a factor.
Women's Bigger Health Picture
Many factors can affect who gets cancer, what type of cancer they get, and
how they fare. Women of all backgrounds are advised to see a doctor for any
breast health concerns and to follow recommended cancer screening
The new study didn't just look at breast cancer alone. It also tracked other
The study included 264 black and 642 white patients. All were women who had
been diagnosed with breast cancer from 1985-1990 and were treated at Detroit's
Henry Ford Health System.
The women were followed for an average of 10 years. During that time, 25% of
black patients (64 women) died of breast cancer and 37% (95 patients) died of
By comparison, 18% of white women (115 patients) died of breast cancer and
32% (202 women) died of other causes.
Survival Worse for Blacks
The study's key findings include:
- Black women were more likely to die of breast cancer and other conditions
than white women.
- Health problems unrelated to cancer accounted for most deaths among black
breast cancer patients.
Diabetes and high blood pressure were two big reasons for the gap in deaths
unrelated to cancer, the researchers note.
Controlling such illnesses could help more black women survive breast
cancer, they write.
The researchers also call for more studies to check the results in other
groups of black and white breast cancer patients.