Race, Ethnicity and Socioeconomics
Breast cancer risk and rates of the disease vary among different ethnic and socioeconomic groups. While more research is needed to understand these variations, it is clear that poverty is linked to greater chemical exposure and, thus, greater risk.
Varying rates of breast cancer can be observed among different groups of women. And while a nuanced story is emerging, much more research is needed to more fully understand the factors at play.
White women have the highest overall breast cancer incidence rates, and the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 45. Yet a greater proportion of African American women are diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45, and African American women are more likely to die from the disease than any other group.
Part of what contributes to the higher mortality rates among African American women is that fact that they are more likely to develop an aggressive "triple-negative" type of breast cancer,, which is more difficult to treat. While Latinas have lower rates of breast cancer than both white and African American women, they, too, are more likely to have aggressive "triple-negative" tumors.
Socioeconomic status also plays a role in determining a group's breast cancer risk. A recent study found that African Americans, people with less formal education, and people with lower socioeconomic status were more likely to live within a mile of a polluting facility identified by the EPA. This study reiterates findings from a number of other studies conducted in the past 20 years. Another recent study found that pregnant African American, Latina and Asian/Pacific Islander women were more likely to live in counties with higher air pollution.
We also know that the levels of chemicals related to breast cancer in people's bodies varies by race and ethnicity. African Americans have higher levels of many chemicals than whites or Mexican Americans, including PCBs, mercury, lead, PAHs, dioxin and phthalates. Mexican Americans as a group have higher levels of the pesticides DDT/DDE and 2,3,5,TCP.
- Smigal C, Jemal A, Ward E, Cokkinides V, Smith R, Howe HL, Thun M (2006). Trends in breast cancer by race and ethnicity: Update 2006. . CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 56: 168-183.
- Bowen RL, Stebbing J, Jones LJ (2006). A review of the ethnic differences in breast cancer. Pharmacogenomics 7: 935-942.
- Jones BA, Kasl SV, Howe CL, lachman M, Dubrow R, Curnen MM, Soler-Vila H, Beegly A, Duan F, Owens P (2004). African American/White differences in breast cancer carcinoma. Cancer 101: 1293-1301.
- Bauer KR, Brown M, Cress RD, Parise CA, Caggiano V (2007). Descriptive analysis of estrogen receptor (ER)-negative, progesterone receptor (PR)-negative, and HER2-negative invasive breast cancer, the so-called triple-negative phenotype: A population-based study from the California Cancer Registry. Cancer 109:1721-1728.
- Mohai P, Lantz PM, Morenoff J, House JS, Mero RP (2009). Racial and socioeconomic disparities in residential proximity to polluting industrial facilities: Evidence from the Americans’ Changing Lives Study. American Journal of Public Health 99 (S3): S649-S656.
- Brulle, Robert J. and Pellow, David N. 2006. Environmental Justice: Human Health and Environmental Inequalities Annual Review of Public Health 27:103-124
- Woodruff TJ, Parker JD, Kyle AD, Schoendorf KC (2003). Disparities in Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy. Environmental Health Perspectives 111(7): 942-946.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/index.html
- Smigal C, Jemal A, Ward E, Cokkinides V, Smith R, Howe HL, Thun M. Trends in breast cancer by race and ethnicity: Update 2006. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 56:168-183.