contributing factors

The Breast Cancer Mortality Rate is Higher Among African Americans

Beth Brophy Health Guide June 09, 2006
  • Although breast cancer is less common among black women than white women, the mortality rate is higher among blacks, which has long puzzled medical researchers. The breast cancer death rate is 11 per 100,000 for black women versus 6.3 in whites.

    Now, a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, has found that young black women with breast cancer are more likely than white women to develop a “basal like” sub-type of tumor with genetic traits that make it difficult to treat, and often deadly. Of premenopausal black women with breast cancer, 39 percent has this dangerous kind versus 16 percent of non-black women. The reason for this is not known.

    This discovery will likely lead to scientists trying to discover new drugs to treat this type of cancer. Basal-like tumors, which grow fast and spread quickly, are known as “triple-negative” because they don’t respond to three common treatments. They are not fueled by estrogen, so tamoxifen and raloxifene don’t work. Nor does herceptin. And they are not stimulated by progesterone, either.

    Some previous studies have shown that basal-like tumors were the most common found in Africa. However, experts says, other factors besides tumor type may lead to the higher death rates among black women. These factors may include less access to good health care, nutritional differences and environmental exposures.

    What do you think of the latest breast cancer study? Tell us in our message boards.