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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Racial Gap in Breast Cancer Care

White Women Living Longer; Survival Rates Among Blacks Unchanged

Health Insurance, Distrust May Play Role

Over the study period, the average time a woman lived from diagnosis also rose, from 20 to 21 to 25 months.

For white women, survival times improved from 20 months to 27 months over time. But among black women, survival times remained basically flat at 16 to 17 months.

“We’ve made huge strides in the treatment of advanced breast cancer, but as a group, black women are not benefiting from these improvements,” Giordano says. "Survival of non-Hispanic white women has improved, while survival of black women has remained unchanged,” she says.

Giordano says that the study was not designed to identify the reasons for the racial gap, but speculated that access to health care and utilization of screening programs may play a role. For example, research has shown that 20% of blacks vs. 11% of whites lack health insurance, she tells WebMD.

“But we need to do more research to find out what it causing the differences before we can fix the disparity,” Giordano says.

Archie Bleyer, MD, medical advisor in the Cancer Treatment Center at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Ore., says blacks may have an inherent distrust of the health care system due to inequitable treatment in the past. Bleyer tells WebMD that doctors have to put efforts into making all patients feel equal and comfortable.

“We don’t believe we treat patients differently, but our actions and words might not always convey that,” he says.

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