Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among African-American women. In 2010, breast cancer was the leading cause of death among African-American women aged 45 to 64 years.
According to health experts at NYU Langone Medical Center, late detection and the tumor biology of the breast cancer that some African-American women develop are the two major factors that attribute to their increased mortality.
In celebration of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Kathie-Ann Joseph, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, NYU Langone Medical Center, shared five important facts African-American should be aware of.
Are African-American women more likely to develop breast cancer?
African-American women are not more likely to get breast cancer but they are more likely to die from breast cancer once diagnosed across every stage. The five year survival rate is 86 percent among White women and it is 71 percent for African-American women.
Is breast cancer more aggressive among African-American women? If so why?
It can be. There is a subtype of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer which makes up 10-20 percent of all breast cancer. It's called triple negative because these tumors do not express estrogen, progesterone or HER-2/neu, a protein that often is overexpressed in some breast cancers. As a result, these tumors are aggressive and the only treatment is chemotherapy. Up to 30 percent of African-American women will have triple-negative breast cancers.
What can they do to lower their risk?
There is not much that can be done to avoid having triple negative breast cancers but the best chance at having the best outcome is early detection. Having a triple negative breast cancer does not mean it's a death sentence. I have patients that have done quite well because their cancer was caught early and were treated aggressively.
Should African-American women begin breast cancer screening earlier compared to other women? If so at what age?
Some people believe African-American women should begin breast cancer screening earlier compared to other women because of the breast cancer data for younger women. When you look at the incidence of breast cancer for women under the age of 40, African-American women have a higher incidence of breast cancer. However, at this time we don't recommend screening for women under the age 40 unless you have a family history of breast cancer.
What are some important stats African-American women should know about breast cancer?
The five year survival rate of 71 percent for African-American women versus 86 percent for white women that I mentioned before. Despite all the advances, that is still quite a low number.
About 40 percent of black women with abnormalities on their mammograms never receive follow-up care, a rate twice as high as that for white women. African-American women are five times more likely to delay getting treatment once they have been diagnosed (usually 1-2 months). Stage I breast cancer has a 90 percent survival rate. Go get that mammogram!