Breast Cancer Inequities

By Breast Cancer Action | April 30, 2014

Incidence and mortality rates of breast cancer differ by race and ethnicity. Asian American/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native women have the lowest incidence and mortality rates of all. These classifications are not homogenous groups and we see examples in sub- populations, such as in Southeast Asian and Samoan women, of having increasing rates of breast cancer.

Although breast cancer rates are highest among Caucasian women, their mortality rates are lower than among African American women.

The incidence of breast cancer among Hispanic women is overall 26 percent lower than in Caucasian women, yet they are 20 percent more likely to die from the disease when diagnosed at a similar age and stage.

Poorer survival rates among African American and Hispanic women may be attributed to later stage at diagnosis and barriers to receiving timely and appropriate treatment such as language barriers, racism/discrimination and a long history of medical mistreatment. Researchers have been studying biological, environmental, and socioeconomic factors, but the underlying causes of this inequity remain largely unexplained.

Poverty and Income

For most diseases, risk is inversely related to socioeconomic status in that higher income populations have lower disease risk. With breast cancer, we see that higher-income populations are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer while lower-income populations, who have lower rates of breast cancer, are more likely to die from the disease.

As an example, research shows that 10 percent of whites as compared to 28 percent of African Americans live below the federal poverty threshold. In addition, 20 percent of African Americans lack health insurance compared to 11 percent of whites. These differences may be tied to the racial inequities in breast cancer morbidity.

Low-income breast cancer patients have five-year relative survival rates that are nine percent lower than higher income patients. For example, low-income African American women are three times more likely than higher income African American women to be diagnosed with advanced disease.

This article is excerpted from the fact sheet “The Facts and Nothing But the Facts” by Breast Cancer Action, a national, feminist grassroots education and advocacy organization working to end the breast cancer epidemic. Find out more.