Regular Screening Helps Reduce Difference in Breast Cancer Outcomes Between African American and White Women

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Breast cancer in African American women is typically more aggressive than breast cancer in white women. Compared to white women, breast cancer in African American women tends to be:

  • diagnosed at a younger age
  • more advanced at diagnosis
  • more likely to be fatal at an earlier age

White women also tend to live longer after breast cancer than African American women.

So overall, African American women tend to be diagnosed with breast cancers that have a worse prognosis compared to white women.

Now, a study suggests that regular screening mammograms can help overcome this difference.

The research was published in the August 2012 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Read "Regular screening mammography before the diagnosis of breast cancer reduces black:white breast cancer differences and modifies negative biological prognostic factors."

The study looked at the outcomes of 1,642 women diagnosed with breast cancer from 2001 to 2006 at Rush University Medical Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, both in Chicago:

  • 980 women got regular screening mammograms (726 were white and 254 were African American)
  • 662 women didn't get regular breast cancer screening (492 were white and 170 were African American)

The study was a retrospective study, which means the researchers analyzed information that had been collected before the study was designed. Some researchers think that retrospective studies aren't as good as studies that are designed first and then collect new information specifically for that study.

Earlier studies have shown that African American women in Chicago are more than twice as likely to die of breast cancer compared to white women.

The researchers found that among women who got regular breast cancer screening, no matter their race, there was no difference in the rate of how many of them had more advanced stage disease at diagnosis -- about 30% for both African American and white women.

Women who got regular screening also were more likely to be diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer compared to women who didn't get regular screening. This difference was statistically significant for African American women, which means that the difference was likely due to the difference in screening and not just to chance.

Hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers have receptors for the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone, which tell the cancer cells to grow. Hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers usually can be treated successfully with several types of hormonal therapy medicines, including tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors. In general, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers have a better prognosis than cancers that are hormone-receptor-negative.

This study emphasizes how important regular mammograms are for all women, especially African American women.

If you're 40 or older and have an average risk of breast cancer, yearly screening mammograms should be part of your healthcare. If your breast cancer risk is higher than average, you should talk to your doctor about a more aggressive breast cancer screening plan that makes the most sense for your particular situation.

There's only one of you and you deserve the best care possible. Don't let any obstacles get in the way of your regular screening mammograms:

  • If you're worried about cost, talk to your doctor, a local hospital social worker, or staff members at a mammogram center. Ask about free programs in your area.
  • If you're having problems scheduling a mammogram, call the National Cancer Institute (800-4-CANCER) or the American College of Radiology (800-227-5463) to find certified mammogram providers near you.
  • If you find mammograms painful, ask the mammography center staff members how the experience can be as easy and as comfortable as possible for you.

For more information, visit the Mammograms pages.

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