African-American breast cancer patients survive as long as their Caucasian counterparts, a new study with up to a 40-year follow-up shows. The study, conducted at the University of Chicago, also found that African-American women do not have more aggressive cancer.
"These findings contradict other studies which indicate that African-American women are more likely to die from the disease because they have biologically more aggressive tumors," said Dr. Ruth Heimann, assistant professor in the department of radiation and cellular oncology.
About 1,700 women (1,277 Caucasians and 481 African-Americans) who were treated with mastectomy from 1927 to 1987 were studied, Dr. Heimann said.
The disease-free survival rate was similar for both races regardless of the size of the tumor or whether the cancer had spread into the patient's lymph nodes, Dr. Heimann told the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology at its annual meeting in Miami Beach.
For example, she said, African-American patients with early-stage disease--tumors 2 cm and less and no lymph node involvement--had a disease-free survival rate of 83%, as compared with 78% for Caucasian patients.
African-American patients with more advanced disease--those with four or more involved nodes--had an 18% disease-free survival rate, as opposed to 17% for their Caucasian counterparts.
"We also compared how many lymph nodes contained cancer cells. African-American women had the same number as Caucasians if their tumor size was the same." Dr. Heimann said. This strongly indicates that African-Americans do not have more aggressive disease, but rather, have the same type of disease as Caucasian women, she emphasized.
"We've begun looking at each patient's cells to see if the patient is more likely to have cancer spread," Dr. Heimann said. Preliminary data show that African-Americans were only as likely as their Caucasian counterparts to have cancer spread.
The study also emphasizes the importance of early screening for breast cancer, she noted. Nearly 40% of the Caucasians and more than 40% of the African-Americans were under age 50 when they were treated for the disease