A new study shows that African-American women are diagnosed with breast cancer at the same rate as white women, closing the gap for decades that had black women in an advantaged position.

For a long time, white women in the U.S. were much more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than black women. But that gap appears to be closing. Credit: Huffington Post

Carol DeSantis, from the American Cancer Society and leader of the study, said, “For a while we’ve seen the increase in black women and stable rates in white women. Even though we’d seen the trend, it’s sort of shocking. It’s a terrible situation,” according to NPR.

The study, published in the Cancer Journal for Clinicians (CA), was conducted with historical data from cancer registries in nine regions of the country, altogether representing nine percent of the U.S. population. States showing higher rates on black women were: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

By 2012, the black and white group’s rates were similar: 135 cases per 100,000 women. Just a decade before, white women rate was 132 and black women rate was 124. Results show that, from 2008 to 2012, breast cancer rates increased in African-American women in a 0.4 percent per year, as white rates show stability.

Also, breast cancer incidence increased for Asian and Pacific Islander women, although the numbers are lower compared with white and African-American women, showing a rate of 88 per 100,000. Hispanics also show a lower rate, with 91 per every 100,000 women.

What’s behind these statistics?

DeSantis believes that the increase of African-American women diagnosed with estrogen-positive breast cancer may be caused by high obesity rates. In 2012, 58 percent of black women showed overweight, as white women showed overweight in a 33 percent.

According to the study, obesity can increase estrogen levels in the body due to body fat, and this increase on estrogen has been pointed out as a risk factor for some of the forms of breast cancer.

However, DeSantis stated, “I really don’t know if there are changes in black women more than in white women — having fewer children, having them later in life. I’d like to look into it some more. There may be other risk factors changing as well,” according to NPR.

Experts also say that black women living in the south tend to have more additional health problems when they are diagnosed with breast cancer. Nevertheless, researchers say that death rates are falling, for any women group, as diagnosis and treatment are becoming more effective.

Researchers also noted that there are more black women diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer known as “triple negative,” although they haven’t been able to explain the reason.

“This is just such a complex disease. We used to think of breast cancer as you were before or after menopause,” Dr. Joanne Mortimer, an oncologist at City of Hope in Duarte, California, told CBS News. “It really is more about the biology of the cancer.”

Nevertheless, researchers encourage all women to maintain a healthy body weight, to stay physically active and restrict the amount of alcohol consuming. Also, they point out that mammograms are still the best way of diagnosing breast cancer while it is on its early stages, to be treated in the right moment.

Source: NPR