March 25, 2014 — Over the past 20 years, breast cancer mortality rates in several of the largest U.S. cities have decreased far less for black women than for white women, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Reuters reports.
To analyze changes in breast cancer death rates on a national scale, epidemiologist Bijou Hunt of Mount Sinai Hospital and colleagues examined data from 41 of the largest U.S. cities during four different time periods: 1990-1994, 1995-1999, 2000-2004 and 2005-2009.
During the 20-year period, the researchers found that breast cancer mortality decreased by 27% for white women and 13% for black women.
The disparity between the two rates was present in the 1990s and continued to widen as time went on. In 1990-1994, breast cancer mortality rates were 17% higher among black women than white women, which steadily rose to a 40% difference by the last time period studied.
The study attributed the increasing disparity in breast cancer mortality rates to differences in quality of and accessibility to health care, noting that genetic and health factors alone could not explain the difference in rates.
Hunt wrote in an email to Reuters, "The advancements in screening tools and treatment which occurred in the 1990's were largely available to White women, while Black women, who were more likely to be uninsured, did not gain equal access to these life-saving technologies."
She noted, "If genetics were responsible ... we would not have seen the rates go from being nearly equal in most places at the first time point to being so much worse" for black women compared with white women during the 2005-2009 time period (Huggins, Reuters, 3/21).