Though breast cancer death rates have been in decline for 20 years, black women had higher death rates than other demographics in the newest Centers for Disease Control report covering 2005-2009. Breast cancer remains the most common cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women, about 40,000 deaths annually.  

Earlier detection and better treatment are the biggest reason for the recent drop in breast cancer deaths overall but black women who develop breast cancer still have a 9% greater chance of dying than white women. The biggest factor in the higher mortality is that black women often have cancers that grow faster and are harder to treat but some of the reason the advanced stage breast cancer rate is 10% higher might be that black women have fewer social and economic resources than other women and are less likely to seek prompt follow-up care when their mammogram shows something that is not normal. 

The CDC report notes that preventive benefits and coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act, including coverage of mammograms without co-pays in many health plans beginning in 2014, should close that gap.

The researchers reviewed data on new cases of invasive breast cancer reported during 2005 through 2009 from CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. Breast cancer deaths were based on death certificates submitted to National Vital Statistics System.

“Although we are making progress reducing deaths from breast cancer, we have much work to do to reduce preventable deaths, particularly among African-American women,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Only when every woman receives adequate screening, timely follow-up, and high-quality treatment, will the full benefit of breast cancer screening be achieved.”