Even though survival rates for breast cancer patients are on the rise, the statistics reveal disparities, which may be related to education, treatment and post-cancer care.
American women who suffered from breast cancer in 1975 had a 5-year survival rate of 75%, while currently those values have risen to 90%. Black american women, on the other hand, currently register a survival rate of 79%, leading researchers to believe that these discrepancies may be related to barriers on a socioeconomic level, as well as in the access to comprehensive health services, which results in black women benefiting less from medical advancements, when compared with white women.
“The advancements in screening tools and treatment which occurred in the 1990s were largely available to white women, while black women, who were more likely to be uninsured, did not gain equal access to these life-saving technologies,” explained the epidemiologist from the Mount Sinai Hospital, in Chicago, Bijou Hunt, who is the author of another study focused on racial disparities within breast cancer survivors, on a Reuters press release.
Even though survival rates are also improving among black patients, the rhythm is not the same, as the survival rate of white women has been rising much faster. In addition to the discrepancies between races, the higher incidence in breast cancer cases lies among white women.
Moreover, the disparities are not only racial, but also geographic. Dr. Hunt and his team analyzed the survival rate in different cities across the country, observing that while the national probability of dying after diagnosis is 40% for black women, there are cities in which the rate is twice as high, such as Nashville.
When talking about disparities between black and white women, regarding breast cancer, one recurrent explanation is the idea that black women tend to suffer with more aggressive forms of the disease. However, according to his results, Dr. Hunt discredits the argument based on ethnicity.
On the other hand, what the author believes to be determinant are the socioeconomic factors, such as income, education, and occupation, which can have direct effects on patients’ health by influencing patients’ access to medical understanding and care resources. Regardless the Affordable Care Act, patients living in disadvantaged regions and with less economic power still have less access to resources and insurance.
Several studies have recently been focusing on ethnicity, including recent research from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) that was able to find a genetic variant, particularly common in Hispanic women, that lowers the risk of developing breast cancer.
Additionally, the Center for Breast Surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is also currently enrolling patients to initiate a large study meant to identify risk factors associated with triple negative breast cancer, one of the most difficult types of cancer to treat, as well as to assess genetic resemblances of ethnic groups.