It has been somewhat well known for decades that Black women were less likely to develop breast cancer than white women, but this is no longer the case.
Carol DeSantis, an American Cancer Society epidemiologist, led the study that confirms that Black women are now just as like as White women to get breast cancer. She states that “for a while we’ve seen the increase in Black women and stable rates in white women.” DeSantis also asserts that even though medical professionals have seen this trend developing, the news is still “sort of shocking.”
Black women’s risk went up by 0.4 percent a year between 2008 and 2012. This is a much higher increase than in previous years. Overall, 124.3 African-American women per 100,000 were diagnosed with breast cancer during those four years, compared to 128.1 White women. Unfortunately, Black women also have the highest death rates from breast cancer. Black women die at a rate of 31.0 per 100,000, as opposed to 21.9 per 100,000 for white women. This is largely due to the fact that African-American women are diagnosed later, when the cancer has likely spread to other parts of the body.
DeSantis also states that the rise in breast cancer among Black women may be connected to increasing obesity rates. Fifty-eight percent of Black women were obese in 2012, compared to only 33 percent of White women. The more fat that accumulates in the body, the more estrogen levels are increased, which is a serious risk factor for many forms of breast cancer.
Other breast cancer risk factors are also involved, but DeSantis asserts that she’s not sure if there are “changes in black women more than in white women–having fewer children, having them later in life.” She shares that she’d like to look into this more, since there is a chance that the risk factors could change.
It is, of course, important for women of all ethnicities to know which risk factors could lead to breast cancer. DeSantis shares that it’s essential for women to maintain healthy body weight, to limit alcohol consumption and to be physically active on a regular basis. She also maintains that mammograms are the best way to catch breast cancer in the earlier stages, when the disease is more easily treated.
Breast cancer rates for Black women were actually higher than those for White women in seven states: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. The rates were lower in the District of Columbia, as well as 11 other states.
The results for this study were published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The study results are based on data from the SEER program, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. The SEER program has been gathering data on cancer patients since 1973.
The incidents of breast cancer also increased slightly for Pacific Islander and Asian women at 88.3 per 100,000. However, these rates are still significantly lower than those for African-American and white women. Hispanic women also have a lower rate of breast cancer, at 91.9 per 100,000.