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Racial Disparities, Mortality Rates, and Breast Cancer

Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than women of other races. Here’s what we know and don’t know.

Black women with breast cancer are 41 percent more likely to die from the disease within a given year.

Breast cancer is cancer that originates in the tissues of the breast. In the United States, it is the second-most common form of cancer among women. It is also the type of cancer with the second-highest mortality rate among women.

It’s estimated that there will be over 287,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in 2022 and over 43,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2022.

It’s important to remember that breast cancer is a different experience for everyone—within these statistics and estimates, there exists a wide variety of diagnoses. Women are diagnosed with different types of breast cancer, diagnosed at different stages, and at different ages. These factors—and many others—shape the experience of breast cancer.

A woman’s race and ethnicity also play a significant role in her experience with breast cancer.

Black women and breast cancer mortality rates

The incidence of breast cancer among Black women is slightly lower than that among white women—this means that the percentage of Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer is slightly lower than the percentage of white women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.

But while Black women have a slightly lower risk of developing breast cancer, Black women who develop breast cancer are more likely to die as a result of the disease. This is true among Black women of all age groups. It is also true when compared to all other ethnic groups.

Mortality rate is a statistic that measures how a specific cause of death affects a specific population during a specific length of time.

Data published by the CDC shows that over the past decade—compared with white women—Black women with breast cancer are 41 percent more likely to die from the disease within a given year.

Genetics and treatment access

There are multiple factors contributing to this mortality rate.

One is that Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. This type of breast cancer is difficult to treat and associated with higher mortality rates.

Another factor is disparities in healthcare among Black women and white women. Race-related health disparities mean that Black women as a whole are less likely to have access to the factors that contribute to better outcomes after a breast cancer diagnosis—such as the ability to access and afford treatment.

Black women have the second-highest rate of poverty among women in the U.S. (non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native women have the highest). Poverty is strongly associated with higher cancer mortality rates.

More work is needed to fully understand the significantly higher mortality rate among Black women with breast cancer—and improve outcomes for these women.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Breast Cancer Statistics."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "An Update on Cancer Deaths in the United States."
American Cancer Society. "Key Statistics for Breast Cancer."
American Cancer Society. "Types of Breast Cancer."
American Cancer Society. "Breast Cancer Stages."
Bernadine Cimprich, David L Ronis, and Gloria Martinez-Ramos. "Age at diagnosis and quality of life in breast cancer survivors." Cancer Practice, 2002. Vol. 10, No. 2.
National Cancer Institute. "Breast Cancer Risk in American Women."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Patterns and Trends in Age-Specific Black-White Differences in Breast Cancer Incidence and Mortality – United States, 1999–2014."
National cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. "Cancer Mortality Rates."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "United States Cancer Statistics:  Data Visualizations."
American Cancer Society. "Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2019-2021."
BreastCancer.org. "Do Black Women Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Have Higher Rates of Genetic Mutations Than White Women?"
Juanita J. Chinn, Iman K. Martin, and Nicole Redmond. "Health Equity Among Black Women in the United States." Journal of Women's Health, 2021. Vol. 30, No. 2.
BreastCancer.org. "Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Deadlier for Black Women, Partially Due to Lower Surgery, Chemotherapy Rates."
Robin Bleiweis, Diana Boesch, Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines. "The Basic Facts About Women in Poverty. "Center for American Progress. August 3, 2020.
National Cancer Institute. "Persistent Poverty Linked to Increased Risk of Dying from Cancer."

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