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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Blacks’ Breast Cancer Treatment Lacking

African-American Women Less Likely to Get Supplemental Breast Cancer Treatment
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 8, 2007 -- African-American women may miss out on potentially lifesaving supplemental treatments for breast cancer that may prevent the cancer from returning.

A new study shows white women with more advanced breast cancer were more than four times more likely to take the breast cancer drug tamoxifen and three times more likely to receive chemotherapy than African-American women. These supplemental therapies are recommended after breast cancer surgery to kill any cancer cells that the surgery may have missed.

"We have seen that African-American women are not getting the optimal therapy as often as white Americans," says researcher Mousumi Banerjee, PhD, of the University of Michigan, in a news release. “Some of it has to do with socioeconomics, some with insurance status and/or access to care, but there are choice issues as well, especially with chemotherapy."

African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. Researchers say this and other recent studies suggest that the reason why may be due to a combination of factors. For example, African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage of the disease.

The Role of Race

In the study, published in the journal Cancer, researchers looked at the role of race and other demographic factors in the treatment of 651 women diagnosed with breast cancer in Detroit in the early to mid-1990s.

Among those whose breast cancer had not spread to surrounding tissues, the results showed no significant differences in treatment received, such as the number of white and African-American women who received breast conservation surgery vs. mastectomy.

But among women whose cancer had spread to the lymph nodes or surrounding tissue, white women were more than four times more likely to receive the widely used breast cancer drug tamoxifen than African-American women. In addition, African-American women were three times less likely to receive chemotherapy as a supplemental breast cancer treatment.

Researchers say the results suggest that culturally sensitive ways to increase use of supplemental breast cancer treatments may be needed to improve the treatment of African-American women with breast cancer.

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