The gap continues to grow, but it ultimately depends on where you live.
A new study found that black women in the US continue to die from breast cancer at a higher rate than white women.
The breast cancer mortality rate for black women in the US is 30.7 deaths per 100,000 women, while the mortality rate for white women is 21.4 deaths per 100,000, according to new research from the Sinai Urban Health Institute, funded by the Avon Foundation for Women. That means the rate of breast cancer deaths is 43.1% higher in black women than white women.
The study, published Monday in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, looked at race-specific breast cancer deaths between 2010-2014 in the 50 largest cities in the US. This is a follow-up to their 2014 study, which found that black women in the US were 39.7% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women were between the years 2005-2009. (One limitation worth noting is that these studies only compared deaths in non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites).
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The study found that racial disparities in breast cancer deaths vary greatly depending on where you live.
At the city level, the gap in mortality rates grew in 24 of 43 US cities (they couldn't get complete data from all 50 of the largest cities).
Atlanta had the highest disparity, where black women were 117% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women were. This jumped from just 4.1% in 2005-2009, making it the city with the largest increase in disparity. Significant racial disparities were also seen in Austin, TX (94%); Wichita, KS (80%); San Antonio, TX (79%); and Kansas City, MO (77%).
Fortunately, three cities saw a significant decrease in racial disparities when compared to the 2005-2009 data: Memphis, Boston, and Philadelphia.
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So why is the gap growing? The research shows that in most of these cities, fewer white women are dying from breast cancer, while black women are dying at the same rate as before — or higher.
Back in the early 1990s (the earliest period of time the researchers examined), breast cancer mortality rates for black women and white women were about the same. But in the years after that, as innovations in screening and treatment became available, the disparity began to grow.
“Around that time, we started to see white women make improvements in breast cancer mortality rates because they were able to access screening and treatment, while black women were maybe not able to access it as well as white women,” study co-author Bijou Hunt, of the Sinai Urban Health Institute at Sinai Health System, told BuzzFeed Health.
“And not just [access to resources], but access to quality resources, quality mammography, and quality treatment.”
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While the study didn’t look at why the disparity exists, an obvious factor seems to be access to the same innovations that brought breast cancer deaths down in white women.
“The fact that the disparity grew dramatically over the period of time, and the fact that it varies by geography, that suggests that probably access to quality health care is the key issue,” study co-author Marc Hurlbert, PhD, of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, told BuzzFeed Health.
“The biology [and] the genetics of a black woman in New York can't be that different from someone in Chicago or Los Angeles.”
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