Report says race plays role in breast cancer

Racial and socioeconomic factors continue to play significant roles in breast cancer, according to the State of Breast Cancer Report, recently published by Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Dallas.

Globally, more than 1.1 million people will be diagnosed with the disease and more than 410,000 will die this year.

"There's been a lot of progress in breast cancer, but it hasn't reached everybody," says Cindy Geoghegan, executive advisor of scientific community relations at Komen.

Once breast cancer is diagnosed, race, poverty, and lack of health insurance lower the chance that treatment will be successful. For example, African American women are less likely to develop breast cancer than Caucasian women, but are more likely to die of the disease. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among Latinos. Only 38% of Hispanic women age 40 and older have regular mammograms. Most members of racial minorities, the elderly, men, those who live in rural communities, women who are lesbian or bisexual, and the poor or disabled have significantly less chances of surviving the disease than their Caucasian female counterparts.

Regarding research, minorities are left out of cancer trials. "Ethnic and racial minorities make up less than 10% of participants in cancer clinical trials," according to the report. "In addition, people 65 or older make up less than one-third of clinical trial enrollees, even though nearly two-thirds of cancer patients are in this age group. Without greater participation of all groups in clinical trials and other types of studies, researchers can't answer basic research questions." Those research questions include:

  • Why are some forms of breast cancer more common in some ethnic and racial groups than in the general population?
  • Why do African American women tend to have more aggressive forms of breast cancer and die more often from the disease than Caucasian women?

To eliminate some of the disparities in minority participation in clinical trials, the Department of Health and Human Services introduced two programs: Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Standards and Clinical Trials (CLAS-ACT) and BackPack are intended to develop national standards for culturally and language-appropriate resources to the clinical trials process. Resources and guidelines will be developed to help scientists and health professionals recruit minority patients into new clinical trials and address attitudes related to mistrust of the health care system.

The projects will be part of a four-year initiative, Eliminating Disparities in Clinical Trials (EDICT), which is being conducted jointly by two Houston-based groups: the Chronic Disease Prevention and Control Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and the Intercultural Cancer Council, an organization that seeks to eliminate the unequal burden of cancer among racial and ethnic minorities and medically underserved populations.