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Breast Cancer, Race, and Ethnicity

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Does Race or Ethnicity Affect Breast Cancer Risk? continued...

The higher death rate from breast cancer among African-American women has been linked to the stage, or extent, of the cancer at the time it's diagnosed. Studies show that African-American women tend to seek treatment when their cancer is in a more advanced, less treatable stage.

In addition, a higher percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics lack a usual source of health care, such as a primary care provider. Having a primary care provider increases the chance that a person will receive appropriate preventive care -- including routine check-ups and screenings -- that may detect breast cancer at an early stage.

Several other factors have been found to impact the breast cancer incidence and death rates among racial and ethnic groups. Differences in certain lifestyle behaviors -- such as diet, exercise, and acceptability of smoking and alcohol use -- may raise the risk of many diseases, including heart disease and breast cancer. 

There are also various factors that may contribute to the lower rates of routine and preventive health care among minority populations, including:

  • Socioeconomic factors. These include income level, lack of transportation, and lack of access to health insurance or health care facilities, including screening programs.
  • Language and communication barriers. These barriers can interfere with a person's ability to discuss health concerns and develop trust in a primary care physician.
  • Education about or understanding of health care risks and symptoms. Women who are not aware of breast cancer risks and symptoms are more likely to wait to seek treatment until their symptoms interfere with daily tasks.
  • Cultural practices and expectations. Women of some cultures may turn to traditional or "folk" remedies before seeking treatment from a doctor.
  • Cultural and/or religious beliefs related to health and health care. Strong beliefs in healing and miracles, as well as distrust of the health care system, may keep some people from participating in routine preventive care.

There continues to be an enormous need for more education and resources to reach women, particularly minorities, with the message of breast cancer screening and prevention. For those who are at high risk, careful monitoring and follow-up care with a primary care provider are especially vital.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on July 02, 2014
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