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Breast Cancer Health Center

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New Clues in Breast Cancer Race Gap

Racial Gap in Breast Cancer Death Rate May Be Worst in Breast Cancer's Later Stages
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 13, 2007 -- Breast cancer death rates may be nearly 40% higher for African-American women than white women with the same stage of breast cancer, a new study shows.

The reason for that racial gap isn't clear. But the gap may be widest in breast cancer's most advanced stages, report the researchers.

They included Russell McBride, MPH, who works in New York at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

McBride's team reviewed U.S. data on more than 21,000 African-American women and more than 234,000 white women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1988 and 2003.

The researchers compared African-American women and white women who were diagnosed with the same stages of breast cancer. That strategy eliminates the possibility of comparing women diagnosed with early cancer to those diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.

After considering various factors, African-American women were 39% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women diagnosed with the same stage of breast cancer.

African-American women were more likely than white women to have larger breast tumors and more than one lymph node affected by breast cancer.

But tumor size and lymph node involvement didn't explain the racial gap in breast cancer death rates.

Past studies show that African-American women are more likely to have particularly aggressive breast cancers and less likely to get appropriate treatment than white women.

"The factors that prevent black women from receiving the same quality of care as white women may be exacerbated by the more complex treatment regimens used for more advanced breast cancer," write McBride and colleagues.

However, the data studied by McBride's team don't include details on the women's breast cancer treatment.

The researchers call for further research to confirm their findings, which appear in the Sept. 15 edition of the journal Cancer.

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