African-American women who receive standard treatment for breast cancer have similar survival rates as white women

African-American patients with breast cancer who are treated with conservative surgery and radiation therapy have similar survival rates to that of white patients, despite the earlier age of onset and larger tumor size, according to a Yale study.

The principal investigator, Bruce Haffty, M.D., professor of therapeutic radiology at Yale School of Medicine, said the study was prompted by the fact that although the incidence of breast cancer is about 13 percent lower for African-American women than for white women, the mortality rate from breast cancer is higher for all stages of the disease in African-American women.

His study published last week in the July/August issue of the Cancer Journal of Scientific American rules out standard treatment as the reason for the difference in the mortality rate.

“Despite a younger age of onset and larger tumor size, the outcome in African-American patients with breast cancer who are treated with conservative surgery and radiation therapy is similar to white patients in terms of overall survival,” Haffty said.

In another finding, Haffty said that although the survival rate following a lumpectomy and radiation therapy is similar, the researchers also found that African-American women have a slightly higher local relapse rate and poorer cosmetic results. Both of these issues require further investigation.

The study included 1,614 white patients and 101 African-American patients who were diagnosed with primary breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy and radiation therapy at Yale-New Haven Hospital between 1973 and 1997.

There was no difference in overall 10-year survival between the African-American and white patients. However, at 10 years, the relapse free rate was 81 percent for the African-American women and 87 percent for the white women.

The co-author is Nimi Tuamokumo, a recent graduate of Yale School of Medicine. The study was supported in part with funding from the Robert Leet and Clara Guthrie Patterson Trust and the Ethel F. Donaghue Women’s Health Investigator Program at Yale.

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