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African-American Women: Breast Cancer More Deadly?

Explaining Disparities continued...

"We thought it might have something to do with treatment differences, but we accounted for disparities and the differences persisted," Warner says.

However, she says, there could still be some treatment differences not fully accounted for that could help explain the higher death risk.

"On average, black women in our study were diagnosed at a later stage," she says. 

Body mass index at diagnosis plays a role in survival, she says. Higher BMIs are linked with lower survival. "We see differences starting at [a BMI of] 25," she says. A BMI of 25 is termed overweight.

The biggest survival differences, she says, are seen at BMIs of 30 and higher, termed obese, Warner says.

African-American Women & Breast Cancer: Perspective

"Their findings are certainly consistent with previous work examining racial disparities in breast cancer mortality," says Swann Arp Adams, PhD, assistant professor and associate director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.

Adams' study on racial disparities was published in the journal Cancer earlier this year. She, too, found that African-American women had lower survival after breast cancer than other ethnicities.

However, Adams says, it's not all gloom and doom.

Many public health programs, she says, are trying to improve the outlook. "Here in South Carolina, the Best Chance Network, which is a part of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, provides free mammograms and Pap smears to income-eligible women."

The program, she says, has been shown to help women of all races get a diagnosis earlier.

To improve their odds, Warner says, women diagnosed with breast cancer should seek a second opinion and find the best care they can.

Women in rural or underserved areas should consider asking for a referral to a larger center, Warner says.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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