Black Women Are Still More Likely to Die From Breast Cancer

A nurse performs a mammography on May 15, 2001

According to a recent study (pdf), black women are more likely than white women to die from breast cancer.

The study, conducted by Mark Hurlbert, chief mission officer at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Bijou Hunt, an epidemiologist at the Sinai Urban Health Institute, was conducted over the last decade and analyzed breast-cancer mortality rates by race for the 50 most populous U.S. cities between 2010 and 2014. It built on their prior city-level analysis from 1990 to 2009, Hurlbert wrote in Time.


Their study found that in 1990, black women were 17 percent more likely to die than white women, and that number rose to 35 percent by 2000. But between 2010 and 2014, black women were 43 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women. Hurlbert and Hunt also looked at which cities displayed statistically significant differences in mortality rates for black women and white women.

While racial disparities in breast-cancer mortality are already acknowledged at the state and national levels, this study provides data at the city level and changes in disparity over a 25-year period. In his Time article, Hurlbert notes that “the disparity is growing in some cities more than others.” Chicago, Boston and Memphis, Tenn., are three cities where there has been either a reduction in the disparity or an improvement in mortality rates for black women, Hurlbert says.

The study notes that differences in access to public health systems, mammographies and treatment likely contribute to the problem. Biology is another factor: Black women are diagnosed at earlier ages and more likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive forms of the disease.

Hurlbert says that he and Hunt conducted the studies to spur city and local officials and health departments to take notice and take action, and address the needs of their communities. He ends his Time article on a hopeful note:

The good news is that fewer women of any race are being diagnosed and dying of breast cancer for a number of reasons—mostly likely due to a drop in the use of hormone therapy and better treatments. However, our findings underscore that where a patient may live should not determine if she lives, no matter her race.


Read more at Cancer Epidemiology (pdf) and Time.

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