Breast Cancer Mortality Higher in Blacks Than Whites

Major Finding: Black women are 41% more likely to die from a breast cancer than are white women – despite having a significantly lower incidence of the disease.

Data Source: The CDC review used data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), the National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR), and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program.

Disclosures: The study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



Despite having a lower incidence of breast cancer than white women, black women are 41% more likely to die from the disease.

Black women also are significantly more likely to present with advanced disease than are white women, according to a new federal database review.

"As a public health leader – and as a woman – I find these disparities in breast cancer deaths unacceptable, but they are also avoidable," said Ileana Arias, Ph.D., deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a telephone press briefing.

"We’ve achieved significant success in the fight against breast cancer, but we must continue to work together, so that more mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters have the best chance of surviving."

The CDC’s new study, published in the Nov. 13 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR 2012; 61:1-6) examined mortality rates among black and white women diagnosed with the disease from 2005-2009. Data were extracted from the National Vital Statistics System, the National Program of Cancer Registries, and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program.

According to the report, an average of 205,246 cases was diagnosed each year. These included 173,970 in white women, at a rate of 122.1/100,000 and 21,942 in black women – at a significantly lower rate of 116.9/100,000.

However, Dr. Arias noted during the briefing, "Black women were 41% more likely to die than were white women. For every 100 diagnoses, black women had nine more deaths than [did] white women [27 deaths in black women vs. 18 in white women]."

The report also found that 45% of black women were diagnosed with advanced disease, compared with 35% of white women, said Dr. Marcus Plescia, director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

"Timeliness of care is a challenge as well," he said during the briefing. "For example, studies have shown that 20% of black women experience follow-up times of more than 60 days after an abnormal mammogram compared with 12% of white women." (Am. J. Public Health 2010;100:1769-76).

Studies have also determined that only 69% of black women start treatment within 30 days, compared with 82% of white women, and that significantly fewer black women receive surgery, radiation, and the hormone treatments they need, compared with white women, he said (Breast Cancer Res. Treat. 2008;109:545-57).

"This fatal disparity must end," Dr. Plescia said. "The solutions to address these disparities are within reach, but all parties have to step up to the plate and make equal treatment a priority. There is a shared responsibility for all of us. ... The full benefit of breast cancer screening can only be achieved when we ensure that every woman receives timely follow-up and high-quality treatment."

The report should be seen as a "national call to action," to address these issues, Dr. Arias said.

"Addressing this problem can be complex, but we are closer to a solution with the important passage of the Affordable Care Act, which will dramatically increase access to health care, especially for health screenings, such as mammograms. "

As federal employees, Dr. Arias and Dr. Plescia have no financial disclosures.