Though Black women get breast cancer at a 3% lower incidence rate than white women, they are 42% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. Wait a minute! That doesn’t make sense. Isn’t the death rate from breast cancer on a downward trend?

“We were astounded by this huge difference. The Black Lives Matter movement and equality marches inspired our research to provide better care for African American women,” says Murray Rebner, MD, a Beaumont diagnostic radiologist who specializes in breast imaging. “My research partner, Dr. Vidya Pai, and I started to look deeply into the data to find out the reasons for this disturbing racial disparity to see if we could do anything that could save more lives of African American women.”

The physicians focused on how Black women dealt with getting screened and unique issues relevant to them. They revealed their findings recently in the Journal of Breast Imaging. Facts from “Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations: African American Women Are at a Disadvantage” include:

  1. Black women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50. Studies show 23% of breast cancers in Black women are diagnosed before age 50 compared to 16% of all breast cancers in white women.
  2. BRCA genetic mutations are more common in Black women than in white women, although less frequent those of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.
  3. The triple-negative breast cancer subtype is more common among Black women. This subtype is aggressive but can have features that overlap with benign conditions like noncancerous breast lumps.
  4. Because of the higher incidence of aggressive breast cancer at a younger age, Black women might be disadvantaged by recommendations to start doing screening mammography at age 50.

Earlier Breast Screening Benefits Black Women Most

Screening guidelines are important because they guide doctors’ recommendations and can determine if screening is covered by insurance. Breast cancer screening guidelines that recommend an older age to start screenings disadvantage Black women because they ignore key facts about their heightened risk at younger ages.

Rebner explains, “What’s even more concerning is African American women are much more likely to get a very aggressive triple negative breast cancer, which grows and spreads faster, has limited treatment options and a worse outcome. Triple negative breast cancer makes up 21% of the cases in African American women compared to 10% in white women.”

“Fact one is earlier onset,” he adds. “Fact two is a more aggressive cancer type. Therefore, Dr. Pai and I conclude African American women need to be screened earlier, starting at least by age 40, and need to be screened yearly.”