Breast Cancer Disparities in African American Women

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

In fact, breast cancer rates have been slowly increasing since 2004, with an estimated 266,120 new cases of the disease in 2018. While there is some good news, as the NCI reports that that overall breast cancer death rates are decreasing, not all breast cancer realities are created equal – particularly not for African-American women.For the first time, African-American women have been added to the list of groups considered “high risk” for breast cancer, according to the American College of Radiology.

Breast Cancer Disparity

Breast cancer outcomes vary by race and ethnicity — and the disparities in African-American women are startling:

  • African-American women in the United States are about 1% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than white women but 40 percent more likely to die from the disease.
  • They are more likely than white women to develop breast cancer before age 40.
  • African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced-stage cancer than white women.
  • They are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, an especially lethal form of the disease.

One of the best ways to address these outcomes is early detection.

Why Early Detection Matters

Early detection through routine breast cancer screening remains the single most important preventative measure for women, regardless of race or ethnicity. The earlier the breast cancer diagnosis, the higher the chances of long-term survival. Women whose cancer is contained within the breast (stage 1, or localized breast cancer) have a 93 percent five-year survival rate.

Mammograms are the first screening option for most women, improving their chances of early detection. In this type of screening, a series of breast x-rays are taken to look for cancer. Knowing what to expect during a mammogram may help ease your mind if you’re wondering how they work and what happens during the test.

When Should You Get a Mammogram?

For women at average risk of breast cancer, our health experts recommend getting an annual mammogram, starting at age 40. This early breast cancer screening protocol has been shown to save the most lives from breast cancer.

Since African-American women are more likely to develop breast cancer before age 40, they may want to get screened earlier. As with any medical advice, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of screening.

Breast Density and Breast Cancer Risks

Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer. On a regular mammogram, dense breast tissue appears white, making it more difficult to spot cancerous tumors early, if at all.

Breast density has nothing to do with the size or shape of your breasts. Studies have found that African-American women have higher breast density on average than white women, which can contribute to more difficult detection of breast cancer.

In 2014, Pennsylvania passed the Breast Density Notification Act, requiring women to be notified of their breast density on their mammogram report. Be sure to read your mammogram report once you receive it from your doctor. If you have questions about your breast density, ask your doctor whether additional screening makes sense for you. Other screening options may include 3D mammography, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of one or both breasts.

Women at high risk may benefit from more intensive screening and should consider making an appointment with the Magee-Womens High-Risk Breast Cancer Program.

Call 1-800-649-4077 to schedule a mammogram at any of our conveniently located Magee-Womens Imaging or Womancare Centers.