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Breast cancer outcomes are worse for Black men



A new study finds that racial disparities in male breast cancer are persisting in the United States.

From 2000 to 2019, Black men were diagnosed at later ages than White males (median ages, 69 and 63 years, respectively) and were more likely to die from the disease (22.4% vs. 16.8%, respectively). Male breast cancer (MBC) was more likely to kill Black men in rural vs. urban areas (hazard ratio = 1.4; 95% confidence interval, 1.0-2.1; P less than .05). Among White males, in contrast, there was no difference on that front, according to the research, which was presented in a poster (Abstract No. 87P) at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Breast Cancer annual congress.

It’s not clear why the disparities exist, said lead author Lekha Yadukumar, MBBS, an internal medicine resident at the Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education in Scranton, Penn., in an interview.

“Several potential factors may contribute to the higher rate of breast cancer diagnosis in older [Black] men, including the pathology of the disease, limited awareness about breast cancer, and potential barriers to accessibility,” she said. “The increased mortality among [Black men] may be linked to variations in tumor pathology and molecular biology. Social factors may also potentially impact survival rates, including [having] limited access to health care in rural areas and inadequate social support.”

Male breast cancer is rare, accounting for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases in the United States, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. An estimated 2,700 men are diagnosed each year, and about 530 will die. Previous research has suggested Black men have worse outcomes than White men, but the data covered earlier years than the new study.

Methods and results

Dr. Yadukumar and colleagues retrospectively analyzed statistics from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database for patients diagnosed with primary male breast cancer from 2000 to 2019 (n = 8,373; Black men, 1,111 [13.26%]; White men, 6,817 [81.41%]).

Median income didn’t affect mortality, whereas men in both racial groups were less likely to die if they were married vs. single/divorced (hazard ratio = 0.6; P less than .05).

Other studies have shown that “[Black American] men diagnosed with breast cancer experience longer time intervals before receiving treatment, encounter more severe disease manifestations, and exhibit lower rates of survivorship,” Dr. Yadukumar said. “Despite these findings, there remains a scarcity of genetic studies aimed at comprehending the underlying causes of these disparities. Moreover, there is a dearth of research investigating other factors that may influence survival outcomes among men with breast cancer.”

Findings reflect the disparities in female breast cancer

In an interview, Duke University, Durham, N.C., oncologist Arif Kamal, MD, MBA, MHS, the chief patient officer at the American Cancer Society, said the study is impressive since the number of patients is large for a rare cancer and the population is diverse. Plus, the findings reflect the disparities in female breast cancer, he noted.

“We know that Black women’s mortality is worse vs. White women in breast cancer, and we believe that most of that has nothing to do with cancer screening,” said Dr. Kamal, who was not involved in the new study. “When the clock starts from diagnosis onwards, you start to see less introduction to clinical trials and standard care medications and more time to treatment, surgery, and radiation,” he said.

“You see similar disparities as related to mortality in Black vs. White men,” he noted.

The new findings about higher death rates for Black men, especially in rural areas, suggest that “distance matters, and race matters,” he said. In rural areas, it can be hard to access pathologists, radiologists, and surgeons with more experience with breast cancer, he said.

But, he noted, the study finds that income doesn’t appear to be a factor.

In the big picture, he said, the results suggest that when it comes to barriers to better outcomes, “things that are systemic don’t make exceptions because you are a man vs. a woman.”

No study funding was reported. The study authors and Dr. Kamal have no relevant financial disclosures.

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