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Black women are more at risk for breast cancer


In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the American Cancer Society (ACS) will conduct its “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk from 8 a.m. to noon Oct. 21 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S. Figueroa St. There is no cost to resister for the non-competitive five-kilometer walk. Participants encouraged to raise funds and can do so by registering online, on the phone or the day of the walk.

Call (800) 227-2345 or online at

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Black women with an estimated 30,700 new cases diagnosed in 2016. Similar to the pattern among White women, the rate of breast cancer among Blacks has increased rapidly over the past three decades. This is largely the result of increased detection by mammography screening. The ACA reports that while these rates have generally stabilized among White women, they have increased among Black women (0.5 percent per year from 1986 to 2012). As a result, incidence rates in Black and White women converged in 2012. The continued increase in incidence rates in Black women may in part reflect the rising prevalence of obesity in this group.

From 2008-2012, the overall breast cancer incidence rate among Black women was 124.3 cases per 100,000 women, 3 percent lower than in White women (128.1).

However, rates were higher among Black women in seven states (Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee), and were not significantly different in 24 states. Breast cancer incidence rates were also higher among Blacks than Whites for women under age 45; the median age of diagnosis is 58 for Black women, compared to 62 for White women.

Breast cancer is the second-most common cause of cancer death among Black women, surpassed only by lung cancer. Prior to the mid-1980s, breast cancer death rates for White and Black women were similar. However, a larger increase in Black women from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, followed by a slower decline, has resulted in a widening disparity. Since 1990, breast cancer death rates dropped 23 percent in Black women compared to a 37 percent drop in White women. As a result, breast cancer death rates in the most recent time period (2008-2012) are 42 percent higher in Black women compared to White women, despite similar incidence rates. Higher death rates among Black women likely reflects a combination of factors, including differences in stage at diagnosis, obesity and co-morbidities, and tumor characteristics, as well as access, adherence, and response to high-quality cancer treatment.

All women can help reduce their risk of breast cancer by avoiding weight gain and obesity (for postmenopausal breast cancer), engaging in regular physical activity, and minimizing alcohol intake. Women should consider the increased risk of breast cancer associated with combined estrogen and progestin hormone therapy use when evaluating treatment options for menopausal symptoms. In addition, recent research indicates that long-term, heavy smoking may also increase breast cancer risk, particularly among women who start smoking before their first pregnancy. More information about breast cancer is available in the American Cancer Society publication Breast Cancer Facts and Figures, available online at