Breast Cancer Mortality Rate Falls, but Not for Black Women

New data show mortality rate for Black women is 40% higher than that of white patients
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2022 5:20 PM CDT
Racial Disparities Remain in Breast Cancer Outcomes
JayVarion Peters-Johnson admires a portrait of late aunt, LaDora Johnson, who died in 2008 after battling breast cancer, before going to his prom in May in Frankenmuth, Mich.   (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)

The death rate from breast cancer has plunged since 1989, the American Cancer Society reports, but the improvement is not applying equally. Black women are still more likely to die of breast cancer than white patients, despite having a lower incidence of the disease, a new report says. The mortality rate for Black women is 40% higher, though in the three decades ending in 2020, the death rate for patients overall declined 43%, per CNN. The racial disparity "is not new, and it is not explained by more aggressive cancer," said Rebecca Siegel, a senior author of the report.

"The evidence is consistent that Black women receive short shrift in the health care system at every point of the breast cancer care continuum," Siegel said, "from lower-quality mammography to delays between the time of diagnosis and the beginning of treatment to poor-quality treatment when they are diagnosed." A University of North Carolina medical professor said the divergence began decades ago. In the late 1970s, Dr. Samuel Cykert said, outcomes were equally bad for everyone. By the mid-'80s, mortality rates had improved for white women, a gap that remains now. "You need a system change that acknowledges that there are disparities and care and outcomes," he said, as well as community involvement in the issue and accountability.

The study, published here, also found:

  • The incidence of the disease has risen 0.5% per year since 2004, possibly because of broader diagnoses.
  • Death rates are falling for every racial and ethnic group except American Indian and Alaska Native women; their rates are steady.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native women are 17% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than white women are. They're 4% more likely to die of the disease, however.
(More breast cancer stories.)

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