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Reducing the Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer Survival

Photo: Courtesy of Tachina Lee

In the past 10 years, breast cancer death rates have dropped significantly. In spite of this, the disease remains the most common cancer in the world among women. Just as concerning, significant racial disparities in cancer mortality also persist.

Who’s at risk?

In fact, breast cancer is the number one cause of death among Hispanic women, and black women have the highest death rates from the disease of all racial and ethnic groups. According to an October 2016 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black women are 41 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.

But that is not the case everywhere, contends Lisa Richardson, Director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “There are places where black women have equal mortality, and black and white women have lower mortality from breast cancer than the national average,” she says. These places may be the key to reducing disparities in survival.

The towns are located across the country, from South Carolina to Massachusetts.

What’s next?

“The next step is to visit those communities and learn what’s different so that we can figure out how to spread those things,” Richardson says. Potential solutions to reduce the disparities include: increasing education regarding family history, increasing screenings for breast cancer and emphasizing the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet.

Another step, Richardson says, is researching the subtypes of cancer and how they can affect minority groups. Her work at the CDC involves the Precision Medicine Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot, programs that promote research about individualized care and the most pressing needs for cancer control.

“Black women have always had aggressive cancer,” Richardson explains. “As we learn more and more about what makes the cancer that way, we’ll be able to make a treatment breakthrough and hopefully do a better job predicting who is going to get cancer, so that we can prevent that cancer.”

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