Breast cancer death rates among women decreased during 2010-2014, but racial differences persisted, according to a study by the CDC published October 13, 2016. The findings show changes for death rates from breast cancer by age group for black and white women, the groups with the highest death rates in the United States.
Compared with white women, black women had lower rates of getting breast cancer (incidence rates) and higher rates of dying from breast cancer (death rates) between 1999 and 2013. During this period, breast cancer incidence went down among white women, and went up slightly among black women. Now, breast cancer incidence is about the same for women of both races.
“Our latest data suggest some improvement for black women when it comes to disparities,” said Lisa Richardson, MD, Director of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “First, the decline in deaths suggests that white and black women under 50 are benefiting equally from cancer treatments. Second, we’re hopeful the lack of difference in death rates between black and white women under 50 will start to be seen in older women.”
There was a faster decrease in breast cancer death rates for white women (1.9% per year) than black women (1.5 percent per year) between 2010 and 2014. Among women under age 50, breast cancer death rates decreased at the same pace for black and white women. The largest difference by race was among women ages 60–69 years: breast cancer death rates dropped 2.0 percent per year among white women, compared with 1.0 percent per year among black women.
The authors noted that the drop in death rates among women may be due to improved education about the importance of appropriate breast cancer screening and treatment, as well as women having access to personalized and cutting-edge treatment.
“The good news is that overall rates of breast cancer are decreasing among black women. However, when compared with white women, the likelihood that a black woman will die after a breast cancer diagnosis is still considerably higher,” said Jacqueline Miller, M.D., medical director of the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
One cause of the disparity is that black women are more likely than white women to get triple-negative breast cancer, a kind of breast cancer that often is aggressive and comes back after treatment. Scientists are doing research to learn why some women are more likely to get this kind of breast cancer, and to find better ways to treat it.
Personalized medical treatments combined with community-based cancer control efforts that ensure adequate follow-up and treatment after a cancer diagnosis could help decrease breast cancer death rates faster and reduce differences among black and white women.
The CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides access to timely breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services for low-income, uninsured, and underserved women. It is the largest organized cancer screening program in the U.S. and offers free or low cost mammograms to women who qualify.
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