Breast Cancer Rates Rising Among African-American Women
A new report by the American Cancer Society found that breast cancer rates for African-American women in the U.S. are growing. Although white women have historically been more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, the rate of breast cancer diagnosis for African-American women has risen to the point where, for the first time, it equals that of white women.
The report published Oct. 31 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, analyzed data collected between 2008 and 2012. Because African-American women are also more likely to die from the disease, the results suggest that breast cancer continues to have a greater impact on this population.
Many studies have looked at the differences in number of diagnoses and mortality rates – how likely a person is to die from breast cancer – between African-American women and white women. Although African-American women have historically been less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than white women, researchers have known that African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer for decades. And while the number of diagnoses each year in white women has stabilized, the number in African-American women has been rising over time.
Every two years the American Cancer Society publishes a report, Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, to summarize current statistics about breast cancer, including trends in breast cancer incidence, mortality, survival and screening. The data on breast cancer rates among African-American women was part of the 2015-2016 report.
The report looked at information from 2008 to 2012 for women included in the SEER (U.S. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results) database, a program of the National Cancer Institute. SEER data is drawn from cancer registries across the U.S.
Researchers analyzed incidence trends by race/ethnicity, age and stage. Both incidence and mortality rates were analyzed by state.
While breast cancer incidence rates in white women have remained stable, they have increased in black women. From 2008 through 2012:
- The number of diagnoses in African-American women rose by 0.4 percent per year.
- The number of diagnoses in Asian and Pacific Islander women rose by 1.5 percent per year.
- The number of diagnoses in Native American, Hispanic and white women remained stable.
- 124.3 black women per 100,000 were diagnosed with breast cancer, compared to 128.1 for white women.
- The number of diagnoses in African-American women was higher than in white women in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
By 2012, breast cancer had become as common among African-American women in the U.S. as among white women. Although African-American women are less likely to die of cancer today than 25 years ago, they continue to have a 42 percent higher death rate (31.0 per 100,000) than white women (21.9 per 100,000).
Although researchers don’t yet know the reasons why the death rate is higher, they suggest it may be because African-American women are often diagnosed later, after the cancer is more likely to have spread. Premenopausal African-American women are also more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive subtypes of breast cancer, such as triple-negative disease, that are associated with shorter survival. Many African-American women have less access to quality screening and treatment. Cultural distrust of doctors and lack of medical coverage may also play a role.
The growing incidence and mortality rates in African-American women may also be due to rising obesity rates, which have increased from 39 percent in 2002 to 58 percent in 2012. Obesity increases estrogen in the body, which is a risk factor for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
Other risk factors that may explain why the incidence of breast cancer is rising in African-American women include having fewer children, having children later in life and not breastfeeding as often.
Earlier detection may play a role. But because breast cancer screening rates have remained stable, it wouldn’t fully explain the trend.
What This Means for You
The report highlights the need for more research on why breast cancer continues to take a greater toll on African-American women. It also highlights the need for doctors to offer more follow-up and support to African-American women undergoing treatment.
If you heard or read about these findings, you may have been alarmed. Or maybe you felt frustrated that yet another report shows the greater impact of breast cancer on African-American women, but the reasons why aren’t clear.
It’s important for women of all races to become aware of their risks. Talk to your doctor about genetic testing and make sure to have regular screening mammograms. Steps you can take to lower your risk include maintaining a healthy body weight, having a diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol.
It’s also important that you talk to your doctor right away if you notice any changes or abnormalities in your breasts. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, seek the highest quality care that you can. Consider enrolling in a clinical trial to help researchers figure out what treatments work best. Visit ClinicalTrials.gov and talk to your doctor.
To learn more about breast cancer in African-American women, read Getting Connected: African Americans Living Beyond Breast Cancer or visit LBBC’s website community for African American Women Living with Breast Cancer.
DeSantis, Carol E.; Fedewa, Stacey A; Goding Sauer, Ann et al. Breast cancer statistics, 2015: Convergence of incidence rates between black and white women. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. October 29, 2015. DOI: 10.3322/caac.21320