Experts predict that 36,260 Black women in the United States will receive a new breast cancer diagnosis in 2022 and that 6,800 will die of the disease. Breast cancer now causes more deaths than any other type of cancer among Black women. It accounts for 18% of all cancer deaths in this population.
These statistics come from a
The rates of breast cancer deaths have also fallen in recent decades due to improved awareness, screening, and treatment. However, Black women have benefited less from these improvements than white women.
Black women are less likely than white women to develop breast cancer, but they tend to develop it at a younger age and are 41% more likely to die from the condition. About 82% of Black women survive at least 5 years after getting a breast cancer diagnosis, compared with 92% of white women.
The authors of the ACS report largely attribute this gap to structural racism, which contributes to socioeconomic inequalities. As a result of the legacy of racist lending practices and other forms of discrimination, Black women are more likely than white women to live in low income communities and have inadequate health insurance.
These factors limit their access to timely and high quality cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment services.
Compared with white women, Black women are:
- more likely to get a cancer diagnosis once the disease has already spread and become less treatable
- more likely to experience delays in cancer treatment
- less likely to receive recommended cancer care
Keep reading to learn about other factors that affect breast cancer outcomes in Black women.
In addition to structural racism, the following factors may affect survival rates in Black women with breast cancer.
Black women are more likely than white women to develop breast tumors with certain genetic mutations that cause the cancer to grow quickly.
According to the ACS report, Black women are twice as likely to get a diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), which is aggressive and challenging to treat. They are also 30% more likely to die from this type of cancer due to lower rates of treatment, including both chemotherapy and surgery.
In addition, Black women are nearly twice as likely as white women to get a diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer, which is also aggressive, although rare. Only 30% of Black women with this type of cancer survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis, compared with 43% of white women.
Obesity and chronic health conditions
Compared with white women, Black women have higher rates of obesity and chronic health conditions, including:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
These conditions can negatively affect survival in women with cancer, especially if they are not receiving adequate treatment and support to manage them.
Multiple factors contribute to increased rates of obesity and chronic conditions in Black women, including structural racism and socioeconomic inequalities.
Breast cancer clinical trials
According to a review in Current Breast Cancer Reports, African American women are underrepresented in breast cancer clinical trials, which are studies that evaluate cancer treatments or other interventions.
As a result, scientists may not be gathering all the evidence they need to understand and optimally manage breast cancer in Black women.
Lower rates of clinical trial participation also mean that fewer Black women receive the treatments that healthcare professionals provide in these studies.
Many healthcare professionals and organizations are working to improve breast cancer prevention, detection, and treatment among Black women.
“Many healthcare organizations are partnering with advocacy groups and community-based organizations to improve access to mammography screening programs and to multidisciplinary breast cancer treatment programs,” Dr. Lisa Newman, chief of the Section of Breast Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medicine, told Medical News Today.
“These efforts need to be intensified, but the financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic recession has unfortunately made these outreach programs more challenging,” she said.
Mammography is a type of breast X-ray that healthcare professionals use to check for signs of breast cancer.
According to a 2020 report in
The report also advocates for partnerships between healthcare professionals, community groups, and patient navigators to address socioeconomic inequalities that may limit access to cancer services.
Dr. Newman encourages breast cancer specialists to lobby healthcare leadership for increased support for research into breast cancer disparities and outreach programs.
Taking the following steps may help Black women manage their risk of breast cancer and get an early diagnosis and treatment if they develop the condition. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to improving survival.
Learn about your risk factors
According to the
- dense breast tissue
- a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- mutations in certain genes, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2
- having received chest or mantle radiation therapy at a young age
Other risk factors
- older age
- taking certain types of hormone replacement therapy
- using certain types of birth control pill
- no history of breastfeeding or full-term pregnancy
- starting to menstruate before the age of 12 years
- starting menopause after the age of 55 years
- having excess body weight after menopause
- physical inactivity
- alcohol consumption
Women who have developed breast cancer in the past are also more likely to develop it again in the future.
Speaking with a doctor can help women learn more about risk factors for breast cancer and how to manage them. The ACR recommends that doctors evaluate women who have an increased risk of breast cancer no later than the age of 30 years.
Undergo annual screening
“I encourage all women to initiate annual screening mammography beginning by age 40 years, as this tool remains the most powerful strategy for breast cancer early detection,” said Dr. Newman.
“This is especially important for Black women because they are more likely to develop breast cancer at younger ages compared with white women,” she added.
Doctors might encourage women with certain risk factors for breast cancer to start annual mammography screening at a younger age. They might also recommend other imaging tests, such as MRI or ultrasound imaging.
If an imaging test shows signs of potential breast cancer, the doctor can order a biopsy. During the biopsy, a healthcare professional will collect a sample of tissue to analyze for cancer cells.
Consider genetic counseling
“For women who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, it is important to seek advice regarding genetic counseling and genetic testing,” said Dr. Newman.
“It is especially important for Black women to be aware of their family cancer history and to consider genetic counseling because genetic testing has historically been underutilized in Black women,” she added.
Genetic testing can reveal the presence of genetic mutations that raise the risk of breast cancer. If these are present, a doctor may recommend early mammography screening and other imaging tests.
Some women with certain genetic mutations take medication or undergo breast surgery to help prevent breast cancer from developing.
A doctor or genetic counselor can help a woman learn about the potential benefits and risks of genetic testing and preventive treatments.
Watch for signs
It is also important to know the symptoms of breast cancer, which may include:
- a new lump in the breast or armpit
- swelling or thickening of the breast
- dimpling, puckering, or irritation of the breast skin
- changes in the appearance of the nipple
- bloody discharge from the nipple
- pain in the nipple or breast
“Mammography is not perfect, so women also need to be aware of potential danger signs of breast cancer,” said Dr. Newman.
Anyone who develops symptoms of breast cancer should speak with a doctor as soon as possible.
The doctor may recommend mammography or other imaging tests to check for signs of cancer.
Ask about clinical trials
“I also strongly encourage Black women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer to inquire about clinical research opportunities,” said Dr. Newman.
“Black women have historically been underrepresented in breast cancer research, and many studies have shown that this disparity is frequently related to healthcare professionals failing to offer research opportunities to their Black patients,” she continued.
Participating in clinical trials can help women with breast cancer access new treatments that may not be available elsewhere.
In addition to talking with a doctor, women can learn more about breast cancer trials by searching the database at ClinicalTrials.gov.
Although breast cancer rates are declining, the condition continues to affect tens of thousands of Black women in the U.S. each year. It is the leading cause of cancer death in this population.
Structural racism and socioeconomic inequalities limit access to cancer services for many Black women. This contributes to delays in diagnosis and treatment.
Genetic mutations, high rates of obesity, and chronic conditions may also affect survival rates.
Following screening recommendations can help Black women find out whether they have breast cancer. In some cases, a doctor may also recommend genetic counseling and testing.
Women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis can speak with a doctor about the treatment options, including opportunities to participate in clinical trials. Taking part in a clinical trial may help individuals access cutting-edge treatment that is not available elsewhere.
A doctor can explain the potential benefits and risks of different treatment approaches.