In the United States, about 281,550 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 43,600 will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.1. When we dig deeper into the numbers, it turns out that there are racial disparities at play, as seen with so many other health issues, such as diabetes.
Whites and blacks are diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same rate, but blacks are more likely to die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2. Between 2014 and 2018, CDC data shows that 27 in 100,000 black women died from breast cancer, compared to 19 in 10,000 white women. (The death rate for other color groups is lower than for black women or white women.)
Experts say there are a number of factors at play here, and SELF has spoken to Oluchi Oke3, MD, oncologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, to learn more about the heartbreaking racial disparities in breast cancer. As a black doctor, Dr. Oke understands the importance of filling the gaps in healthcare for all patients.
SELF: To begin with, what are the most common racial disparities we see in breast cancer?
Dr. Oke: The disparities we see relate to the onset of diagnosis, that is, at what stage of cancer people are diagnosed, and also the overall percentage of people of a certain ethnicity who die from breast cancer. We are seeing disparities in the type of breast cancer they get. And the average age for a breast cancer diagnosis is younger in Hispanic and black people4.
Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, which can be difficult to treat and has a poor prognosis. It is more aggressive, so it grows faster, and we find it at a later stage. When we find out later, the cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes or another organ as well. And so we are seeing more African American women die from their breast cancer, in part simply because they are diagnosed later, and also because they are diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
Lack of health insurance is a barrier to rapid screening to detect breast cancer at an early stage and is one of the main reasons we see higher breast cancer death rates in black women. The best-known study on this topic was published in 2017 by researchers at Emory University.5 who looked at the information of more than half a million people in the National Cancer Database. They looked at five factors that could affect the difference in outcome between black and white women with stage 1 to 3 breast cancer, including demographics, cancer characteristics, comorbidities, health insurance and type of treatment. The difference in health insurance was the largest contributor to the difference in death rates for each group. They showed that almost three times as many black women were uninsured as white women, and 35% of the excess risk of breast cancer death in black women compared to white women was due to a difference in insurance. sickness. The type of tumor also contributed to the increased risk of death, but not as much as the lack of insurance contributed.