The Racial Injustice of Breast Cancer

Jan 31, 2021 | Care, Community

Breast cancer does not affect all women the same. In the U.S. today, a Black woman is about 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than a white woman.

Part of the reason for this – she’s more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age, at later stages and with more aggressive, harder-to-treat subtypes.

The tragic disparities in outcomes aren’t just caused by genetics. They are also due to systemic bias and racism that cause unequal access to health care, a lack of diversity in medical research and services and unaddressed cultural barriers, among other things.

Diagnosis Rates of Breast Cancer in Black Women
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Black women. In 2019, about 33,840 Black women were expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet while breast cancer incidence is higher in white women than in Black women, Black women diagnosed with the disease are more likely to die from it.

The average age of diagnosis for Black women is 60 – compared to 63 for white women – and diagnosis under the age of 40 is highest in Black women.

Common Types of Breast Cancer in Black Women
A breast cancer subtype called Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is most prevalent among Black women. It is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that affects women of African descent three times more than white or Hispanic women. TNBC is more likely to recur than other breast cancers, and when it does recur it usually happens within a few years of completing treatment, and the prognosis is usually poor.

Additionally, TNBC does not currently have many treatment options. The tumors lack the three hormone receptors that fuel most breast cancers (estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 – or HER2), which means the targeted therapies used in breast cancer treatment don’t work for patients with TNBC. Recent advancements through clinical trials have provided more treatment options for this type of cancer and more are under development.

Mortality Rates for Black Women with Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is deadliest in Black women. One reason is the type of breast cancer more common in Black women – TNBC – but there are many compounding social reasons contributing to Black women being about 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.

At Susan G Komen, we believe these inequities must end. We’re striving to make this the moment that changes everything.

WE’RE WORKING TO:

  • Ensure equal access to timely, affordable, high-quality risk assessment, screening, diagnostic and treatment services.
  • Actively recruit and retain Black patient navigators in the workforce.
  • Educate the community about risk factors and encourage behaviors to increase early detection, reduce late-stage diagnoses and improve mortality rates.
  • Fund research to identify and treat the causes of racial disparities in breast cancer outcomes.