Study: African-American women twice as likely to die from breast cancer

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RICHMOND, Va. -- A new study raises a decades-old question: is there a link between race and breast cancer?

The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which looked at 375,000 women with breast cancer, found white women are more likely to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. However, the study found that black women are twice as likely to die from it.

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“The study is part of an ongoing effort to disentangle the root causes in the difference in mortality we see in African-American women and white women,” said Dr. Cathy Bradley, the Associate Director for Cancer Prevention and Control at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Bradley, who has studied the possible connection for years, said the study tries to figure out if the difference in mortality among the races is a social issue, such as economic disparity, diet and access to healthcare. Or if the disparity is a biological issue that could indicate more aggressive tumors in black women. Bradley said this study points to the biological factor.

Dr. Cathy Bradley, the Associate Director for Cancer Prevention and Control at VCU Massey Cancer Center

Dr. Cathy Bradley, the Associate Director for Cancer Prevention and Control at VCU Massey Cancer Center

"What it says is even if you control all those other things, you still have some component of risk that's biologically motivated,” Bradley said.

Even though more evidence is needed, Bradley said these studies are important and could eventually lead to better treatments.

"I think what's important is that we ultimately get to a place that we've done a good job eliminating the social determinants that disadvantages African-American women before the diagnosis,” Bradley said.

Bradley's department has a grant to look into the states who have expanded Medicaid and are offering health insurance. Their findings so far show screening rates for breast and cervical cancers have increased among low-income women.

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