CDC: Black women more likely to die of breast cancer, despite lower incidence rates

Nov. 15, 2012, 12:24 p.m.

A women gets a mammogram. Gaps in health care access and quality are a large part of the reason for the disparity in breast cancer deaths between black and white women. (Joseph Moon/Wikimedia Commons)

Even though black women don't get breast cancer as often as their white counterparts, they're more likely to die from the disease, according to federal health officials.

In the Nov. 14 edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that even though breast cancer happens at a lower rate among black women, their mortality rate was 41 percent higher than white women with the disease.

That means, said the CDC, that black women "had nine more deaths than white women for every 100 breast [cancer diagnoses] in each group."

Breast cancer occurs among black women at a rate of about 117 cases per 100,000 women and among white women at a rate of about 122 cases per 100,000, said the agency.

That disparity remains despite major strides in breast cancer detection and treatment, said the CDC in its report. Still, the disease is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, so regular screening, timely follow-ups and, when appropriate, treatment are all crucial to the condition's management.

That's the reason for the higher death rate among black patients: They're not getting that. The CDC found that, compared to white women:

– Black women are more likely to have longer intervals between mammograms, which can lead to cancer being detected too late.

– As such, black women are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer.

– Black women tend to delay follow-up appointments with health providers following an abnormal screening, and are more likely not begin treatment in a timely manner.

– Black breast cancer patients receive health care of a lesser quality.

The CDC added that "[although] the causes and magnitude of these disparities are debated, possible solutions have been implemented to help reduce differences in care along the continuum."

Some of those efforts include educational interventions with women, so they know their risk, as well as the "reduction of structural barriers" and "out-of-pocket expenses."

Patient navigation – in which an expert guides patients through the complex health care system to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment – was also named by the CDC as an effective way to cut down on breast cancer death disparities.

The L.A. County affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure says the county sees around 5,000 new cases of breast cancer every year – and that 1,000 Angelenos die of the disease annually. The latest data from the county's Department of Public Health shows South L.A. has the highest breast cancer death rate in the county: nearly 27 breast cancer deaths for every 100,000 people.

Perhaps not incidentally, the same county data showed that South L.A. also has the highest rate of uninsured adults.

Photo by Joseph Moon via Wikimedia Commons.

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