Figuring out why black women with breast cancer don't live as long as whites

February 1, 2006

While the reasons for the shorter survival of black women with breast cancer compared to their white counterparts are still not completely understood, new research indicates that most of these women die of causes other than breast cancer and that diabetes and hypertension play important roles.

While the reasons for the shorter survival of black women with breast cancer compared to their white counterparts are still not completely understood, new research indicates that most of these women die of causes other than breast cancer and that diabetes and hypertension play important roles.

Researchers studying a historical cohort of almost 1,000 black and white women diagnosed with breast cancer from the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Mich., found that at least one adverse comorbidity existed in 86% of the black women and in 66% of the white women, and that these comorbidities accounted for 50% of the all-cause (hazard ratio [HR] 1.34) and 77% of the competing-causes (HR 1.27) survival disparities between the groups. Such comorbidities, however, did not explain the racial disparity in breast cancer-specific survival (HR 1.47).

Nevertheless, the researchers concluded that effective control of co-existing disease in black women diagnosed with breast cancer should help improve life expectancy and bridge the gap between the races.