Study finds race gap in breast cancer deaths in many cities

March 22, 2012

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(Flickr/Windsordi)
Unequal access to mammography may contribute to the race gap in breast cancer deaths.

African-American women with breast cancer in Chicago are more likely to die of their disease than white women.

Now a new study by Chicago researchers finds that the disparity is a widespread problem in major cities. A team from the Sinai Urban Health Institute calculated the race gap in breast cancer mortality for the nation's 25 biggest cities, and found that more than half of them have a significant disparity.

“In the United States the number of deaths that occur each year because of the disparity, not because of [just] breast cancer, is 1,700,” said Steven Whitman, director of the Institute. “That's about five a day.”

Chicago was among the worst cities, with black women in the city 61 percent more likely to die than white women. Memphis had the largest disparity, and three other cities fared worse than Chicago: Denver, Houston and Los Angeles. All of the data are based on the years 2005-2007.

The study authors have connections with the Metropolitan Breast Cancer Task Force, whose research indicates that societal factors – “racism,” as Whitman bluntly put it – are mainly responsible for the disparity. Task force members say unequal access to screening mammograms is largely to blame, and point out that Illinois' program providing screening to low-income women is nearly broke. Other public health researchers note that genetics likely plays a significant role in the race gap as well.

The study was funded by the Avon Foundation and published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology.