Originally published in November 2015 as “Breast Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate” – updated December 2020
Breast Cancer doesn’t care about your race, sex, age, socio-economic status. You can receive a breast cancer diagnosis even if you lead a healthy lifestyle; it doesn’t discriminate. That said, some groups of women (and men) are more likely than others to develop the disease.
Race Plays a Role
While white women and black women develop breast cancer at about the same rate – black women are more likely to die from it. Deaths from breast cancer are going down among both black and white women, especially among younger black women. But breast cancer death rates are higher among black women than white women.
Research, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, found that not only are black women just as likely to develop the disease, they are 42 percent more likely to die from it.
During the period of 2008 through 2012, breast cancer rates were higher for black women in seven southern states, but remained lower in 11 states and the District of Columbia. The study found that black women are more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype, with an often fatal prognosis. Compared to other ethnic and racial groups, black women are diagnosed after the disease has progressed and have the lowest survival rate at each stage of the diagnosis.
The report offers up a number of possible explanations for why breast cancer is on the rise among black women. Reasons ranged from higher obesity rates (58 percent of black women are obese, compared to 33 percent of white women), to having fewer children and having them later in life. Other research suggests that the health care system may be to blame – citing disparities in access to competent and comprehensive medical care.
Genetic Risk Factors
About five to ten percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning that they result directly from gene changes (mutations) passed on from a parent. The most common form of heritable breast cancer comes from a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
- Women with a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation have up to a 7 in 10 chance of developing breast cancer by age 80.
- Women with these gene mutations are more likely to receive a breast cancer diagnosis at a younger age.
- Women with these gene mutations also have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer and some other cancers. Men with the mutation are also more likely to develop breast cancer, as well as prostate and some other cancers.
In the US, BRCA mutations are more common in Jewish people of Ashkenazi (Eastern Europe) origin than in other racial and ethnic groups, but anyone can have them.
While we can’t control genetic factors that make it more likely to receive a breast cancer diagnosis, we know that mammograms save lives, regardless of race or ethnicity. While breast cancer doesn’t discriminate – it does affect some groups worse than others. Survival rates are highest when breast cancer is found early—which is one more reason to schedule your mammogram at Bergen Imaging Center in NJ today.