The researchers also found that neighborhood socioeconomic status seemed to play a role. Compared to whites with more education and a high neighborhood socioeconomic status, blacks had worse survival, regardless of their own education level, if they lived in a poorer neighborhood.
Hispanics living in wealthier neighborhoods, regardless of their own education level, had better survival than well-educated whites living in wealthier areas. The same was true for Asian women, except that their education level seemed to matter in their improved survival.
Shariff-Marco said it's not clear why the neighborhood characteristics seem to be so important, often even more important than a person's own education.
"We need to dig a little deeper to understand what the socioeconomic status contributes to survival. Our findings speak to a greater need to understand what is contributing to better and worse health in some neighborhoods," she said.
Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that "part of the problem with treating this disease is that only some people have access to care."
It also may be that breast cancer may need to be treated differently in each ethnic group, Bernik said.
Study author Shariff-Marco said while resources exist, some may be underused.
"Women need to be aware of resources that are available to women for treatment and survival," she advised. "Breast cancer patients should be aware of support groups and patient navigation programs that help them get into the care they need."
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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