New research published today the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cancer, looks at the mortality rates of women with breast cancer, finding that Black women had higher rates of comorbidities such as obesity when compared to white women. This finding amplifies previous studies that have evidenced the gap in healthy equities between races in women fighting breast cancer.
"Early breast cancer is highly treatable, and survival rates have improved steadily due to treatment advances and early detection through mammograms; however, the high rates of obesity, overall comorbidities, and obesity-related comorbidities observed among women with early breast cancer--especially among Black women--can contribute to disparities in overall survival of these patients," commented Dr. Kirsten Nyrop, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Findings from this study need to be considered within the larger context of the cancer-obesity link and the disparate impact of the obesity epidemic on communities of color in the United States."
Dr. Nyrop and her team concluded this information by conducting an analysis of 548 patients treated for early breast cancer. Of these patients, the team noted that 62% of Black patients and 33% of white patients had weights classified as obese; within these groups, Black women had greater numbers of comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol than white women. The correlation between obesity and cancer has been well-documented over the last few decades and is considered a significant risk factor for several cancer types.
"As the COVID-19 pandemic has glaringly underscored, there is an urgent need to address the systemic and socioeconomic aspects of obesity that disproportionately affect minority communities in the U.S. if we are to reverse health disparities," comments Dr. Nyrop, explaining that many obesity-related cancers have a higher incidence in Black women than white women.
While this news is obviously a wake-up call for the many ways in which systemic racism weaves its injustices into our systems, medical systems included, the findings also offer an opportunity: breast cancer diagnoses and subsequent follow-up may provide the opening for physicians to implement interventions not only cancer-related but also related to comorbidities. As the authors observe, certain lifestyle interventions could be multi-faceted in their intentions.