WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors have made great strides in fighting breast cancer, but not everyone is benefiting equally: Black women, in particular, are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than any other racial or ethnic group.
So said health officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a special report released Wednesday.
Although breast cancer rates have been dropping during the past 20 years, "black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at lower rates than white women, and yet [blacks] have higher death rates," CDC deputy director Ileana Arias said during a noon press conference.
"As a public health official and as a woman, I find these disparities in breast cancer deaths unacceptable," she added.
Arias said two main factors account for this disparity. First, "there are unacceptable gaps in timely, adequate and appropriate health care," she said. "The second is the difficulty women have in navigating our complex health care system."
For the report, the CDC team collected data on new breast cancer cases from 2005 through 2009. The cases were reported in the CDC's National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. The researchers also compared these cases with deaths from the National Vital Statistics System.
Better treatment and earlier diagnosis are likely responsible for 50 percent of the overall drop in breast cancer deaths, the report authors said. Black women, however, don't seem to be receiving the same quality of care for breast cancer as white women, the report noted.
"This fatal disparity must end," Dr. Marcus Plescia, director of the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, said during the press conference.
Plescia said there's a lag for too many black women in receiving care once they've gotten a breast cancer diagnosis.
"Twenty percent of black women experience follow-up time of more than 60 days after an abnormal mammogram, compared to only 12 percent of white women," he noted.
Moreover, only 69 percent of black women begin treatment within 30 days, compared with 83 percent of white women, Plescia said.
"Fewer black women receive surgery, radiation and other treatments they need, compared to whites," he said. "Deaths rates could be reduced 20 percent if the same treatment was received by both groups of women."
Other highlights of the report:
"The full benefit of breast cancer screening can only be achieved when we ensure that every woman receives timely follow-up and high-quality treatment," Plescia said.
For her part, Arias believes the Affordable Care Act, which includes free mammography screening, will boost black women's access to health care.
"The lack of access to health care has been a major reason why women do not get cancer screening tests," she said.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women, according to the CDC.
For more information on breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.
SOURCES: Nov. 14, 2012, press conference with: Ileana Arias, Ph.D., deputy director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Marcus Plescia, M.D., M.P.H., director, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Nov. 14, 2012, Vital Signs: Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer Severity -- United States, 2005-2009
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