How Does the Environment Impact Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer?

A new study led by Brandi Patrice Smith, a graduate student in food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, finds that neighborhood characteristics such as racial composition and poverty rates are associated with increased risks of late-stage breast cancer diagnoses and higher mortality rates among urban Black women.

The study included data from 93,600 Black women living in urban areas across the United States. Patients, ages 19 to 91, were tracked for an average of eight years. Despite thousands of studies on breast cancer that have shown racial disparities in diagnosis and survival rates, only a small number of researchers have explored how these disparities might be related to various factors in women’s living environments, Smith said.

Residential segregation – which was defined as living in a neighborhood with a predominantly African-American population – significantly increased African-American women’s rates of late-stage diagnosis and doubled their chances of dying from breast cancer, according to the study. Comparable mortality rates were found among White women who also lived in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

“This suggests that the environmental conditions associated with low-income neighborhoods – rather than race itself – increases women’s risks of dying from breast cancer,” Smith said.

The full study, “Urban Neighborhood and Residential Factors Associated with Breast Cancer in African American Women: A Systematic Review,” was published in the journal Hormones and Cancer. It may be accessed here.

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