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Black Women More Likely to Get Wrong Breast Cancer Care, Study Confirms

Black women are much more likely to get the wrong treatment for their breast cancer, new research shows.
Breast Cancer Awareness in Black Women
LANHAM, MD- MARCH 15 Dr. Regina Hampton prepares to insert a balloon catheter into a patient's breast for radiation treatment in Lanham, Maryland on March 15, 2012. Dr. Regina Hampton is a breast surgeon and medical director of Signature Breast Care in Lanham, Maryland. Photos for the Black Women series about breast cancer awareness. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images) Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post/Getty Images

Black women are much more likely to get the wrong treatment for breast cancer, be diagnosed later and have bigger tumors than white women, researchers reported Tuesday.

It’s the largest study yet to look at the disparities in breast cancer treatment in the U.S., and it confirms what many other studies have found — that African-American women are prone to a nastier type of breast cancer, and that they don't get the same standard of care as white women.

Native American women also appear to be at higher risk of more aggressive cancer, the study found — and they also tend to get poor care.

“We found that there is a consistent pattern of late diagnosis and not receiving recommended treatment for some racial and ethnic groups across all breast cancer subtypes,” said Lu Chen of the at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who led the study.

Her team looked at data on more than 100,000 American women listed in a National Cancer Institute cancer registry.

“Women in several racial/ethnic groups are more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced stage breast cancer,” they wrote in their report, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

“African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native women in particular had the highest risk of being diagnosed with stage IV triple-negative breast cancer,” they added. Black women had a 40 percent to 70 percent higher risk of having stage IV cancer – which has spread through the body and which can no longer be eradicated –than whites.

Native American women where nearly four times as likely to have stage IV triple-negative cancer, a particularly hard-to-treat type.

And black and Hispanic women were 30 percent to 40 percent more likely than whites to get the wrong treatment for their cancer type, the team found. There are several subtypes of cancer and now there are tailored therapies for certain types.

It’s long been known that black women are far more likely to die of their breast cancer than white women. Studies have offered all sorts of clues — there may be genetic differences, there may be disparities in getting medical care, black women may get inferior treatment, and black women may simply avoid doctors more.

A 2013 study found black women were often sicker to start with, suffering other conditions besides breast cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 25 in every 100,000 white women die of breast cancer. Nearly 34 in every 100,000 black women die of breast cancer. Just 16 out 100,000 Hispanic and American Indian women die of breast cancer.