A new study shows that breast cancer diagnosis is more likely to cause early death for black women than for white women. This difference has largely been found to be due to the fact that black women tend to have more problems with their health before they develop cancer than white women do.
According to the study, of black women who were on Medicare and told that they had breast cancer, about 55.9 percent were still living five years later. White women who were on Medicare and told they had breast cancer tended to have about 68.8 percent survival rate after five years. All of the women were in the same age range, lived in the same part of the country and they were all diagnosed the same year.
The study, published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that the more things that white women shared with black women, the smaller the difference in the survival rate became. When white and black patients of similar demographics and similar types of tumors were compared, the gap in survival rates shrunk to just 4.4 percentage points. Also, when white patients that had the same demographics, tumors and treatments as black patients that gap shrunk even more, to about 3.6 points.
The researchers believe that these numbers suggest that black women that had breast cancer did worse than their white counterparts because there were not as healthy to begin with. One example; 26 percent of black patients had already been diagnosed with diabetes when they were diagnosed with breast cancer; white patients of the same age and time of cancer diagnosis, as well as area of residence, only 15.3 percent of them had diabetes.
The team wrote that most of the discrepancy can be explained by black patients not being as healthy as their white counterparts at the time of diagnosis. The black patients were also at a more advanced stage of the disease than the white women or had worse features of the disease.
The research team based their findings off of Medicare data that the National Cancer Institute gathered regarding both black and white breast cancer patients between the years of 1991 and 2005. Over 7,000 black women and over 99,000 white women, for a total of 107,273. They were all at least 65 years old. The survival gap remains steady throughout the whole time of the study.
Although the research team found that the black women received sub-par treatment compared to the treatment that white women received; black women were not as likely to receive some combinations of chemotherapy medications, but they were more likely to have surgery to save their breasts without extra therapy, the researchers did not think that these differences have a large effect on the study results.
In short, the large problem is that black women tend to visit their health care provider much later, which means that the cancer is at a much more advanced stage, and any treatment is not as likely to alter the outcome of the disease.
Some health professionals feel that the problem starts with primary care providers and stress that early detection is the key to surviving breast cancer.