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Breast Cancer

Education and early detection key to improving outcomes

Cynthia E. Griffin | 10/3/2014, midnight
Hear the word cancer from your medical practitioner, and thoughts of death are likely to start haunting you.
Poem by Cory Alexander Haywood

Hear the word cancer from your medical practitioner, and thoughts of death are likely to start haunting you.

But despite the ominous-sounding word, the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database notes that the five-year relative survival rate for breast cancer ranges from 100 percent for stage one cancer to 22 percent for those diagnosed with stage four.

Cancers are typically described in stages on a number scale of zero through four—with stage zero describing non-invasive cancers that remain within their original location and stage four describing invasive cancers that have spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.

Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of the disease among women in the United States, according to the Susan G. Komen Facts For Life website, and with October serving as National Breast Cancer Awareness month, there is no better time to review the impact of this disease.

Researchers have found that White women have the highest breast cancer incidents rate of any racial or ethnic group. However, African American women under age 45 have a higher incidence of breast cancer than all other women.

African American and Hispanic/Latina women are also more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with a later stage of the disease and tend to have larger tumors.

Asian American and Pacific Islander women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than other women, and those who are new immigrants to America have lower rates than their counterparts who have lived in the U.S. for many years. For Asian women who were born in America, the rate is similar to that of White women (60 percent higher than women born in Asia.)

Unfortunately, African American women tend to have poorer survival rates than women from other racial and ethnic groups in America, according to the Komen website.

In fact, while White women are more likely to be diagnosed, Black women are more likely to die from the disease.

A large study cited on the American Cancer Society website (of more than 170,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States) confirmed the results of earlier studies. It found that breast cancer in African American women is typically more aggressive than in White women; tends to be diagnosed at a younger age; is more advanced at diagnosis; and more likely to be fatal at an earlier age.

Another analysis of a large nationwide data set found that regardless of their socioeconomic status, Black women were nearly twice as likely as White women to be diagnosed with triple-negative (TN) breast cancer, a subtype that has a poorer prognosis.

Previous studies have indicated that Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer than non-Hispanic Whites. Some studies have suggested that the higher odds of breast cancer subtypes with unfavorable prognoses in minority racial/ethnic groups could be explained by differences in socioeconomic status. However, these studies were limited by their small and incomplete sampling.

Triple-negative breast cancers tend to grow and spread more quickly than most other types of breast cancer, and a lack of these receptors limits treatment options.