Black Women Have 41% Higher Risk of Dying of Breast Cancer

Black women are dying of breast cancer at a much more aggressive rate than white women. What can be done about it?

Black women are dying of breast cancer at a much more aggressive rate than white women—and a new study finds that disparities in healthcare are to blame.


A study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that while white women have a higher incidence of breast cancer, Black women have a 41 percent higher mortality rate—perhaps because more Black women are diagnosed with regional- or distant-stage cancer (45 percent versus 35 percent). Out of every 100 breast-cancer diagnoses, Black women have nine more deaths (27 versus 18).

The report, Vital Signs: Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer Severity, finds that the issue goes beyond genetics: Equity in healthcare access and the quality of that care are major contributors to breast-cancer prognoses.

"Breast-cancer death rates have been declining among U.S. women since 1990 because of early detection and advances in treatment; however, all racial groups have not benefited equally," reads the report. "Black women experience inequities in breast-cancer screening, follow-up, and treatment after diagnosis, leading to greater mortality."

Findings include:

  • Only 62 percent of Black women start treatment within 30 days, compared with 82 percent of white women.
  • Black women's diagnosis-to-mammogram intervals are longer than white women, even when both individuals have the same insurance—20 percent of Black women had an interval of 60 days or more compared with 12 percent of white women.
  • One study showed that equitable treatment could eliminate up to 19 percent of the mortality difference between Black and white women.

Eliminating Racial Disparities in Healthcare

"It's a complex problem, but there are clearly avoidable components of this that we can address and resolve—the issues related to healthcare quality," Dr. Marcus Plescia, Director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the CDC and one of the report's authors, told The New York Times. "It's time to step forward and say that this disparity is unacceptable."

University Hospitals CEO Thomas Zenty recently discussed the impact of diversity management and new healthcare reform laws with DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, noting the growing need for hospitals and other providers to take a proactive approach to eliminating racial gaps in healthcare coverage. University Hospitals, based in Cleveland, is one of DiversityInc's Top 5 Hospital Systems.

"Many studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between people of diverse backgrounds being willing to seek care and knowing that people who look like them will actually be providing that care. So the intersection between diversity and disparities is rather significant," explains Zenty in the video below. "We want to make certain that we're doing everything that we can to make sure that people of color will be able to work in our organization, hold positions of leadership—caregivers, clinicians and support staff." Read this Q&A with University Hospitals CEO Thomas Zenty for more.

Eli Lilly and Company Chairman, President and CEO John Lechleiter, who also was interviewed, agrees. He notes that disparities in healthcare have become a global issue—and it's up to industry corporations and care providers to take the lead in eliminating healthcare disparities.

"The importance of diversity as an underpinning of our business success today and for the future has become more clear to me and more evident," he says. "Our business is shifting in terms of serving different populations and different segments of different populations, both here in the U.S. and in emerging markets. It's brought me and the whole company a greater awareness of how different we are with respect to the way in which medicine is practiced, the way in which treatment is sought, the way in which people understand disease and approach therapy." Read this Q&A with Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter for more. Eli Lilly and Company is No. 29 in the DiversityInc Top 50.

But how can hospitals deliver higher quality care, reduce readmissions and earn maximum HCAHPS reimbursements? What impact can diversity have on clinical trials and retail pharmacies? Get answers to these questions and more at our upcoming diversity event Culturally Competent Care: How Diversity Creates Better Patient Outcomes.

Also, read these articles for more on diversity in healthcare:

What Disease Hits Black Men Most?

Ask the White Guy: The Business Case for Diversity in Healthcare

Improving Healthcare for 68,000 Black & Latino Children

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