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Report: Breast Cancer Rates Rising Among African-American Women

A new report from the American Cancer Society finds that breast cancer rates among African-American women in the United States are increasing. For decades, African-American women had been getting breast cancer at a slower rate than white women, but that gap is now closing.

The findings are published in Breast Cancer Statistics, 2015 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and in Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2015-2016. The reports, published every 2 years, provide detailed analyses of breast cancer trends and present information on known risk factors for the disease, factors that influence survival, the latest data on prevention, early detection, treatment, and ongoing research.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, after skin cancer. It accounts for nearly 1 in 3 cancers diagnosed in women. By the end of 2015, an estimated 231,840 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and an estimated 40,290 women will die from breast cancer.

As of January 2014, more than 3.1 million women living in the U.S. had a history of breast cancer. Most of them were cancer-free, while others still had evidence of cancer and may have been undergoing treatment. Breast cancer death rates have dropped 36% since 1989, which translates to 249,000 breast cancer deaths averted.

From 2008 to 2012, breast cancer incidence rates increased 0.4% per year in black women and 1.5% per year among Asian/Pacific Islanders while they remained stable among whites, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaska Natives. By 2012, the rate at which black women were diagnosed with breast cancer caught up to the rate at which white women were diagnosed. However, differences exist among states. Incidence rates were higher in blacks than whites in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Even though black women have historically had lower incidence rates than white women, death rates among black women have historically been higher, and that has continued. In fact, the black-white disparity in breast cancer death rates has increased over time; by 2012, death rates were 42% higher in black women than white women. The authors of the report say that trend is expected to continue.

Black women are more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to be diagnosed at later stages and have the lowest survival at each state of diagnosis. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype that is linked to poorer survival.

Prevention and Early Detection

Among the topics discussed in the Facts & Figures report regarding risk factors, prevention, and early detection:

  • Because obesity and excess weight increase the risk of developing breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that women maintain a healthy weight throughout their life. Losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits and is a good place to start.
  • Growing evidence suggests that women who get regular physical activity have a 10%-25% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who get no exercise. Doing even a little physical activity beyond your regular daily routine can have many health benefits.
  • Many studies have confirmed that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women by about 7% to 10% for each drink per day. For women who drink alcohol, the American Cancer Society recommends they limit themselves to no more than 1 drink per day.
  • There is some scientific evidence that smoking increases the risk of breast cancer slightly, especially among heavy, long-term smokers and women who begin smoking before their first pregnancy. A recent study by American Cancer Society researchers found that women who begin smoking before they give birth to their first child had a 21% higher risk of breast cancer than did women who never smoked. Quitting has numerous health benefits.
  • To find breast cancer early, when treatments are more likely to be successful, the American Cancer Society recommends women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45, and can change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55. Women should have the choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40 if they want to.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2015-2016. Published October 29, 2015. American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Breast Cancer Statistics, 2015. Published October 29, 2015 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author Carol E. DeSantis, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.