HealthDay News — With earlier detection and better treatment, the mortality rate from breast cancer has fallen over the last two decades, but black women still die from the disease at a disproportionately higher rate than white women, a CDC study shows.

Black patients had a 41% higher breast cancer mortality than white women from 2005 to 2009, and were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at more advanced stages of the disease, Lisa C. Richardson, MD, of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and colleagues reported in Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.

“Despite significant progress in breast cancer detection and treatment, black women experience higher death rates even though they have a lower incidence of breast cancer compared to white women,” the researchers wrote.

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Richardson and colleagues analyzed data from two comprehensive cancer registries, the NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program and the National Program of Cancer Registries, to compare mortality ratios and mortality-to-incidence ratios among black women and white women with breast cancer. The study included 173,970 white women and 21,942 black women with newly diagnosed breast cancer.

Although breast cancer is seen less frequently in black women than in white women, at about 117 cases per 100,000 women versus 122 cases per 100,000 women, black women were more likely to die from the disease — 31.6 deaths per 100,000 versus 22.4 deaths per 100,000 among white women. For the total five year study period, black women had a higher mortality-to-incidence ratio (27 deaths per 100 breast cancers) than white women (18 deaths per 100 breast cancers).

Possible explanations for differences in mortality among the two groups include disparities in access to healthcare and the quality of care received, as well as differences in adherence to mammography recommendations, the researchers suggested. Black women are also more likely to have poor prognosis forms of breast cancer, such as triple negative disease.

“Beginning treatment in a timely way is also important. Fewer black women (69%) start treatment within 30 days compared with white women (82%),” Richardson and colleagues wrote.


  1. Richardson LA et al. “Vital Signs: Racial disparities in breast cancer severity — United States, 2005-2009” MMWR 2012; 61: 1-6.