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Updated 10:00 AM October 15, 2007




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White women use extra breast cancer therapy
more often than blacks

A new study finds that white women frequently take more of the life-prolonging supplemental therapies used to treat breast cancer than black women.

The study, which was led by Dr. Mousumi Banerjee of the School of Public Health, found that among women whose cancer had spread or become regional in nature, whites were almost five times more likely to take tamoxifen, a widely used adjuvant cancer therapy medication, and more than three times more likely to have adjuvant chemotherapy. Adjuvant therapy to kill remaining cancer cells is treatment given in addition to the primary therapy. Studies suggest adjuvant therapy may increase the chances of long-term survival.

White and black women with cancer that had not spread received tamoxifen and chemotherapy at equal rates.

There was no significant difference in the numbers of white and black women who received breast conservation surgery versus mastectomy. However, women with early stage breast cancer who were covered by government health insurance were less likely to have combination breast conserving cancer surgery and radiation, and more likely to have mastectomy without radiation than patients enrolled in non-governmental plans or private plans.

"We have seen that African-American women are not getting the optimal therapy as often as white Americans," says Banerjee, but she added that the cause is a combination of things. "Some of it has to do with socioeconomics, some with insurance status and/or access to care, but there are choice issues as well, especially with chemotherapy."

In the study, researchers reviewed and analyzed demographic, socioeconomic and medical data from 651 women diagnosed with breast cancer in Detroit in the early to mid 1990s. Their objective was to evaluate the role of race in breast cancer treatment after accounting for such significant variables as socioeconomic status, health insurance status, and other medical conditions that exist along with the breast cancer that may preclude use of certain treatments.

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