How Race Influences Breast Cancer Survival - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

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Published on October 04, 2013

How Race Influences Breast Cancer Survival

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and as we watch the country turn pink in honor of the cause, we also turn our attention to addressing this harrowing issue in women’s health.

Although breast cancer diagnosis and death rates have been declining over the last 20 years—thanks to better screening, early detection, increased awareness, and improved treatment options—it’s still the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of death among women.

But what many women aren’t aware of, however, is how one’s race influences their chances of beating this type of cancer. According to the CDC, African American women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than Caucasians. While many doctors believe this is largely influenced by the treatment received, a recent study discovered it might have more to do with a woman’s health at the time of diagnosis.

During the study, researchers compared 7,400 black women with breast cancer ages 65 and older against three different groups of 7,400 white women of the same age and diagnosis. To determine which factors influence survival, each group was compared on the following criteria: demographics, co-existing health problems and tumor size at diagnosis, and treatment administered.

When comparing survival rates among all groups, researchers found that white women lived an average of three years longer than blacks. However, when they compared women based upon their health and tumor size at the time of diagnosis, Caucasian women only lived one year longer.

As a result, doctors concluded that most of the disparity in survival rates lied in the fact that black patients were in worse health than white women at the time of diagnosis.

There’s still more research to be done. For now, however, it’s important to remind women to be proactive with their health and reduce their chances of breast cancer by:

  • Getting screened. Women between the ages of 50 and 74 should receive a mammogram every two years. However, women ages 40 to 49 should discuss with their doctor whether they should get screened earlier.
  • Knowing your family history. As with all cancers and chronic conditions, those who have a family history of breast cancer are at greater risk of developing it themselves. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
  • Being physically active. This will also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can lower your chances of breast cancer. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, you should aim for at least an hour and a half of moderate aerobic activity a week.
  • Limiting Hormone Replacement Therapy. Although this was once prescribed by doctors to help menopausal women, studies have shown that hormone therapy for more than three to five years can actually increase one’s risk of breast cancer.
  • Limiting Alcohol Intake: Breast cancer rates are higher among those who consume more than one alcoholic beverage a day. Stick to no more than one drink, which includes beer, wine, or liquor.

For more information about Crozer-Keystone Cancer Services, or to find a physician who cares for cancer patients, visit or call 1-866-695-HOPE (695-4673).

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