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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Does Race Affect Cancer Survival?

Breast Cancer Deaths Higher for Black Women Despite Equal Treatment
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 8, 2009 -- Black women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than white women, but once diagnosed they are more likely to die of the disease. Now, two new studies add to the debate about the roles that access to care and biology play in this disparity.

Poverty and inferior treatment could not explain the poorer survival among black breast cancer patients compared to whites in one of the studies because all the patients received the same treatments as participants in government-sponsored clinical trials.

Black trial participants were also more likely than whites to die of prostate and ovarian cancer, but they were no more likely to die of lung cancer, colon cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, or multiple myeloma.

“The big news here is that for the majority of cancers there is no survival disparity between blacks and whites when access to care is equalized,” lead researcher Kathy S. Albain, MD, of Loyola University tells WebMD.

The fact that this was not the case with the sex-related cancers suggests an important role for as yet unidentified biologic factors, Albain says.

Albain and colleagues analyzed data of nearly 19,500 cancer patients enrolled in 35 clinical trials overseen by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“We don’t know what it is, but we know in our study the difference (in mortality) wasn’t related to access to care,” she says. “How could it be access when the access was the same?”

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