Blacks don't share in breast cancer progress
Black women with advanced breast cancer are faring no better now than they were two decades ago despite improved survival by white women -- and the gap appears to be widening, U.S. researchers said Sunday.
Dr. Sharon Giordano of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center studied breast cancer survival in women between 1988 and 2003.
She found that, in general, women with advanced breast cancer were living longer.
"But when we looked separately by race, we found the improvement seemed be to limited to white patients and the survival for black patients had remained flat over time," Giordano said in an interview.
"What is really concerning to me is that the difference is getting bigger."
She and colleagues identified 15,438 patients from a National Cancer Institute database. They had a median age of 62 and were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer between 1988 and 2003.
They divided the groups into three time periods.
From 1988 to 1993, breast cancer survival was fairly close between whites and blacks, with a median survival of 20 months for white women versus 17 months in blacks.
Between 1994 and 1998, the median survival was 22 months for white women and 16 months for black women.
From 1999 to 2003, the median survival rate for white women jumped to 27 months, versus a stagnant 17 months for black women.
"The study didn't look at any of the factors that could be causing it," said Giordano, who presented her study at the scientific meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.
Some researchers have suggested that biological differences may make breast cancer more deadly for black women.
A study last fall of 2,000 women by Dr. Wendy Woodward, also of the University of Texas, compared the records of black, Hispanic and white breast-cancer patients.
They found the black women overall had more aggressive tumors and were more likely to die than the Hispanic and white women.
But Giordano was skeptical of the link to biological differences.
"I don't really think it is any inherent difference in biology of people by race. It is more likely related to socioeconomic factors," Giordano said.
"I think you could also hypothesize it could be related to access to care -- potentially differences in access to new treatment," she added.
Giordano said the next step is to determine the reasons for this increasing disparity. "Once you know the reasons, you can intervene to correct the problem."
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, cautioned that biological differences should not be used to dismiss other contributing factors.
"My personal view is the majority of this (disparity) is related to access ... to the ability to get adequate care in a timely fashion, and perhaps some of it is related to biology," he said.
"We in this country need to do a better job of making sure that all women have better access to mammography and better access to care."
Breast cancer kills 500,000 people a year globally, according to the World Health Organization, and 1.2 million men and women are diagnosed with it annually.
It is the second most common cause of cancer death in U.S. women after lung cancer, and the No. 1 killer of women aged 45 to 55. It kills 40,000 men and women a year in the United States.
“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”