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The Survival Rate Racial Disparity Persists

Published on | Kylie Chin

Breast Cancer Survivor

Black women in the United States are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women according to a study published in the July 24/31 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. In fact, breast cancer survival rates for black women diagnosed in last two decades has not changed one iota.

Jeffrey H. Silber, M.D., Ph.D., from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues compared five-year breast cancer survival among 7,375 black women 65 years and older diagnosed between 1991 and 2005 and three matched sets of white women (matched by presentation, treatment, or demographics).

It was found that:

[…] in the demographics match, the absolute survival difference was a significant 12.9 percent lower for black women, which did not change between 1991 and 2005. In the presentation match, the absolute survival difference was a significant 4.4 percent lower, and in the treatment match, the absolute survival difference was a significant 3.6 percent lower. In the presentation match, although significantly fewer black women received treatment, the time from diagnosis to treatment was significantly longer, the use of anthracyclines and taxols was significantly lower, and breast-conserving surgery without other treatment was significantly more frequent, this only accounted for 0.81 percent of the 12.9 percent difference in survival.

“These differences in survival appear primarily related to presentation characteristics at diagnosis rather than treatment differences,” Silber and colleagues conclude.

Simply put, breast cancer may be killing black women at a higher rate than whites because they’re sicker to begin with. So whether the disparity exists due to genetic differences, disparities in getting medical care, inferior treatment, or African-American sentiment for notoriously avoiding the doctor more often than whites—or a combination of all factors—the discordance is real, consistent, and alarming.

Karen Jackson wasn’t alarmed. She is the founder and CEO of Texas-based Sisters Network Inc., a foundation committed to increasing the local and national attention to the devastating impact that breast cancer has in the African-American community. Jackson knows the first hurdle is awareness that early detection can save lives.

“Black women often fear a cancer diagnosis, and are afraid that they are doomed to die anyway,” Jackson said.

Jackson is living proof of surviving breast cancer after feeling a lump and being treated over 20 years ago.


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