Breast cancer has been less common in black women than in white woman for decades. However, the death rate for black women is much higher.
One of the gaps has finally closed. Unfortunately for black women it is the first one.
A new report suggests that black and white women are now being diagnosed at the same rate. Diagnoses have grown more common in black women while conversely, the rate of diagnosis in white women has leveled off.
On the other hand, the gap in death rates has actually widened.
The findings are based in part on historical data from cancer case registries in nine parts of the country. In totality, the areas represent 9% of the population of the United States.
In 2012, the rates for black women and white women converged at around 135 cases per 100,000 women. A decade earlier, the rate for white women was 132 while the rate for black women was 124.
Researchers believe that white women have had higher rates for multiple reasons. One reason is that more white women waited longer in life until they have children. Science suggests that earlier childbirth is associated with a lower risk of developing breast cancer later on.
However, researchers are not sure why the rate of breast cancer for white women leveled off while the rate for black women increased.
It is possible that an increase in screening in some parts of the country may play a role.
But the leading theory is that the increase has to do with obesity.
In older women, obesity is tied to a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Obesity rates are higher in black women and have been rising dramatically.
Researchers further investigated and found 7 states where there were higher rates of breast cancer diagnosed in black women than white women. Nearly all the states were in the south, where obesity rates are particularly high.
The good news is that breast cancer death rates have been falling for both black and white women.
But, the death rate for white women has been lower and falling for a longer time and at a steeper rate.
Again researchers aren’t sure why the disparities exist.