Black Women Less Likely to Survive Breast Cancer

For women who have breast cancer, there's a marked difference in the survival rate depending on whether you're white or black. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, a new study shows the gap between the races continues to widen rather than improve.

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The survival rate for black women with breast cancer isn't improving, even though technology and medicine have advanced. That's according to a study just published by researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Sharon Giordano says the national study was done as a follow-up to local research that showed overall improvement in the survival of patients enrolled in clinical trials at M.D. Anderson.

"So we looked at a group of approximately 15,000 women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer between 1988 and 2003. And what we found was that overall, survival was improving over time for women with metastatic disease. A surprising finding of our study though was that the survival benefit, or the improvement in survival seemed to be limited to the white patients."

For example, the median survival for white patients increased from 20 months to 27 months over the years of the study.

"In contrast, when we looked at the survival for black patients, it was flat. So it was 17 months throughout the years of the study. We were quite concerned to find that the disparity in survival between black and white patients was actually getting worse rather than getting better."

Giordano says the results were surprising. Researchers expected to find that all Americans would benefit from new therapies and the advances in treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

"You know, we couldn't directly study the reasons for this in our study. However, I suspect it's due to issues -- socio-economic factors such as differences in rates of health insurance. It suggests that some of our newer therapies aren't reaching evenly across our population."

At this point, cancer treatment researchers can only speculate why the survival rate for black women is not improving. But Giordano says they must find out the cause for the disparity because that will be the only way to intervene and improve the rate of survival among black women. About 19,000 African-American women are expected to develop breast cancer this year. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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