Breast Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate

Breast Cancer women holding hands
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Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t respect age, gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or a healthy life style.

Yet, it isn’t an equal opportunity disease. There are marked gender differences; it also occurs less often in different races and age groups. Different types of breast cancer are seen more frequently in one race over another often with less favorable outcomes.

A disease primarily of women, with 1 in 8 women in the U.S. developing an invasive breast cancer during her lifetime, it does occur in men at the rate of 2,000+ newly diagnosed breast cancers annually.

Those with genetic risk factors get breast cancer at far higher rates than those whose only risk factors are being a woman and aging. About 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations (abnormal changes) inherited from one’s mother or father with mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes being the most common.

A woman’s breast cancer risk almost doubles if her mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer; but about 85% of breast cancers happen in women with no family history of the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society’s 2019 report an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed, while an estimated 41,760 women and 500 men will die from the disease. Meanwhile, 62,930 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS), a non-invasive and early form of breast cancer will be diagnosed.

Breast cancer in women under 40 accounts for 5% of those diagnosed annually, which is often more aggressive. It also may go undetected until they are more advanced, given that women in this age group don’t get mammograms, may not do self-breast exams, or get comprehensive breast exams, their cancers may go undetected until they are more advanced.

The rates of developing and dying from breast cancer vary among different racial and ethnic groups. According to the American Cancer Society, white, non-Hispanic women have the highest overall breast cancer incidence rate among U.S. racial/ethnic groups while Native Americans and native Alaskans have the lowest incidence rate.

Meanwhile, black women under age 45 have a higher rate of breast cancer than white women. Black women also have a greater chance of being diagnosed, at a younger age, with a more aggressive, advanced-stage breast cancer. They also have the highest death rate from breast cancer.

Hispanic/Latina women, on average, are diagnosed at a younger age than are non-Hispanic women (56 years old versus 61 years old). They are more likely to have large tumors with characteristics that predict poorer outcomes.

Asian women tend to get breast cancer at an earlier age than white women. They also have a higher proportion of dense breast tissue. Asian-American women have low rates of breast cancer screening, which increases their chances of later stage disease when they seek treatment. They have the lowest rate of mammogram screenings than any U.S. racial/ethnic group.

We cannot change our race or ethnicity, but we can practice a healthy lifestyle and reduce our risk of getting breast cancer.

The death rate, in minority populations, can be lowered if more women are screened regularly and their breast cancers are found and treated at an earlier stage. There are many factors that result in women seeking care with late-stage disease, including: Limited awareness of breast cancer, lack of health insurance, no access to preventative care, language barriers, mistrust of the health care system, and cultural beliefs in folk medicine.

In 2019, there are more than 3.8 million U.S. women with a history of breast cancer including women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.

Jean Campbell is a 2x breast cancer survivor and the former founding director of the American Cancer Society New York City Patient Navigator Program in 14 public and private hospitals. She is executive director of a nonprofit organization providing research and resource information and support to women and men newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

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  1. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. Breastcancer.org. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics. Published February 13, 2019.

  2. Desantis CE, Ma J, Gaudet MM, et al. Breast cancer statistics, 2019. CA Cancer J Clin. 2019; doi:10.3322/caac.21583