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Breast Cancer Rates in Black and White Women are now Equal, Study Finds

Update Date: Oct 29, 2015 12:48 PM EDT

The number of breast cancer diagnoses in black and white women has leveled off, a new study found. The death gap between the two races, however, has continued to widen.

"It's a terrible situation," the lead author of the report, Carol DeSantis, said.

For this study, the researchers examined data from cancer case registries in nine areas of the country. The nine areas covered about nine percent of the population within the United Sates. The data were compiled as a part of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers found that for the first time in history, the rates of breast cancer in black and white women were about the same at 135 cases per 100,000 women. Roughly 10 years ago, there was a gap between the two races (132 cases per 100,000 white women and 124 cases per 100,000 black women).

For decades, researchers reasoned that white women were more likely to have breast cancer than black women because they tended to have children at a much later point in life. Science has tied earlier childbirth to a lower risk of breast cancer.

Researchers now do not have an explanation as to why breast cancer rates have flattened for white women and increased for black women. The team believes that obesity, which can increase one's risk of developing breast cancer, could be playing a huge factor. Over the past years, the obesity rate in black women has been increasing dramatically. On top of the obesity rate, the researchers noted that more black women are delaying childbirth.

In regards to the death rate from breast cancer, the researchers found that the gap between black and white women has continued to widen from a 38 percent difference in 2003 to a 42 percent difference in 2012. However, death rates overall have declined. For white women, the death rate fell from 25 to 21 per 100,000 cases. For black women, the rate fell from 34 to 29 per 100,000 cases.

The researchers believe that the death rates have fallen due to better screenings tests and treatments.

The report was published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

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