How Are Black Women Affected by Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Black. In 2016, the American Cancer Society estimated there would be 30,700 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Black women. While white women have a slightly higher breast cancer incidence rate, the difference in incidence has been shrinking.1

Across the United States between 2008 and 2012, rates of breast cancer were higher in Black women than white women in 7 states. The rates were not notably different in 24 states.1

While breast cancer risk increases with age, the rate in women under age 45 is higher in Black women than white women. The average age for a Black woman at diagnosis of breast cancer is 58. The average age for a white woman at diagnosis is 62.1

Black women with breast cancer have a higher mortality rate. This means they are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Black women, second to lung cancer. In 2016, the American Cancer Society estimated that 6,310 Black women would die from breast cancer.1

Since 1990, breast cancer deaths have declined 23 percent in Black women compared to a 37 percent decline in white women. This results in breast cancer mortality rates between 2008 and 2012 being 42 percent higher in Black women compared to white women. Scientists think the difference is due to several factors, including1:

  • A later stage at diagnosis
  • A higher rate of obesity
  • Higher rates of other health conditions, like diabetes
  • Access to high-quality cancer treatment
  • Differences in features of breast cancer tumor(s)

A later stage at diagnosis of breast cancer in Black women

Breast cancer is more likely to be diagnosed at later stages of the disease in Black women compared to white women. Researchers think this is due to factors like:1,2

  • Less frequent mammograms
  • Longer times between mammograms
  • Not receiving timely follow-up if a mammogram comes back with an abnormal result

Breast cancer is more easily treated at earlier stages of the disease. The later stage at diagnosis of breast cancer in Black women contributes to the higher death rate.1,2

More aggressive breast cancer in Black women

Black women are more likely to have breast cancers that are triple negative. This means the tumors are estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative, and HER2 negative.1

Triple-negative breast cancers occur in about 22 percent of all cases in Black women. This is compared to about 10 to 12 percent in women of other ethnicities.1

Women who have hormone receptor-positive cancers may be able to take hormone therapy. There are also several targeted therapies available for HER2-positive cancers. However, there are also now targeted therapy and immunotherapy treatment options for triple-negative breast cancer.1

Reducing the risk of breast cancer in Black women

Women of all races can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices. This includes things like:1,3

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Avoiding weight gain
  • Engaging in regular physical activity
  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • Avoiding smoking

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

More on this topic

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: March 2021