Breast Cancer Deaths Increasing for Black Women

While breast cancer deaths are on the decline, black women still have worse outcomes than white women, according to data released by the CDC. The report noted disparate trends in breast cancer incidence among different races and age groups. The new study also finds that the rates vary from city to city and the disparity is getting worse, not better.

The study, which looked at breast cancer deaths between 2010 and 2014 in the 43 most populous U.S. cities, found that African-American women are 43% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. That is an increase from 2009, when the difference in death rates was 39.7%.

“This disparity results in 3,854 excess deaths of black women every year. That is a shocking and alarming number,” says study researcher Marc S. Hurlbert, PhD, of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in New York.

In 42 of the 43 cities examined in the study, African-American women die from breast cancer at higher rates than white women. In Boston, women of both races die at about the same rate. The difference in death rates is “startlingly high” in Atlanta, where African-American women are dying of breast cancer at a rate more than double that of white women, according to the Avon Foundation, which funded the study.

Cities topping the list with the largest breast cancer death disparities are:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Austin, TX
  3. Wichita, KS
  4. San Antonio, TX
  5. Kansas City, MO
  6. Dallas
  7. Memphis, TN
  8. Los Angeles
  9. Oklahoma City
  10. Chicago


Interestingly, mortality rates fell at the same pace for women younger than 50, regardless of race. This data could provide some hope for the future, according to the CDC.  The study did find some cities, such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Memphis, had significantly improved the disparity. Researchers say these cities are taking steps like setting up task forces aimed at improving mammography quality and expanding screening, diagnosis, and treatment programs to cover uninsured women.

The declining mortality rate among younger women supports prior studies that showed screening efforts like mammography have been successful in catching more cancers at an early stage. The report also recommended initiatives to combat obesity, which is increasing in prevalence among black women and is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.

Bottom line: Breast cancer deaths in black women are increasing. We need a greater targeted effort on early detection among black women and increasing awareness of the known risks, such as obesity, associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.

About the author: Raja P. Reddy, MD is a board certified diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast imaging. He is also a contributing editor for Women’s Imaging Specialists, a leading provider of outpatient women’s imaging services in the greater Atlanta, GA.