Advances in medicine have significantly lowered death rates in women with breast cancer, but black women are still more likely to die of the disease than white women, according to an American Cancer Society report.
Between 1989 and 2015, breast cancer deaths fell 39 percent. This was mostly due to improvements in treatment and efforts at early detection.
Unfortunately, a divide emerged between the survival rates of black and white women in the 1980s, and the situation has not improved. In fact, records from 2015 showed that white women had a 39 percent greater chance of surviving breast cancer than black woman.
The figures in the cancer society’s Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2017-2018 report indicate that the trend is continuing.
Interestingly, native American, Hispanic, and Asian women have the lowest rates of breast cancer, the report showed.
One of the reasons behind the disparity in ethnic groups’ death rates is differences between the types of tumors that different races develop. White women have higher rates of HR+/HER2- breast cancers, while black women tend to have higher rates of triple negative breast cancer, which is extremely difficult to treat. Factors such as obesity and additional diseases also play a role in different races’ survival rates.
Another issue behind the difference in mortality is access to life-saving drugs. Black women, for example, have less access to Tamoxifen, an effective breast treatment that can improve survival, the report says.
Furthermore, black women are less likely to have access to early detection strategies such as preventive screenings, it says. Less access to such services can lead to later detection and diagnosis of breast cancer, which can significantly increase death rates among African-Americans.
Access to follow-up care can also differ between black and white women, contributing to the death rate disparity.
Education has helped address the gap. Black women are now more likely to get mammograms than white women. In the past, the reverse was true.
Another finding is that poverty can prevent black women from obtaining proper healthcare. Poor access to transportation to and from a medical facility can make it harder for a patient to obtain care, for example. Likewise, taking time off from work to go to radiation therapy can be difficult for women living in poverty.
Even when the socio-economic status of black women is factored out, they still have lower rates of survival. And one reason may be racial discrimination at healthcare providers, according to the report.
Geographically, the highest death rates among black women tend to be in South Central states, Mid-Atlantic states, and California. Virtually no gap exists between white and black women in Northeast states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware.
A number of factors could be behind this, including state laws that discourage women without insurance from going for regular checkups or treatment.
Reports such as this highlight the need to address the disparity between black and white women’s survival rates. Strategies such as education, changing laws, increasing diversity in hospital hiring, and increasing black women’s access to healthcare clinics are just some of the ways to ameliorate the situation.