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Black women more likely to die from breast cancer

Black women under 40 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have a poorer overall survival rate than white women of the same age, a study has shown. 

Researchers from the University of Southampton found that survival rates were lower, despite having the same access to healthcare. 

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, shows that this group are more likely to have larger tumours and higher rates of triple negative breast cancer - a type which does not respond to hormone therapies. 

However, this does not fully explain why black women have poorer outcomes, especially for those with cancers which are sensitive to hormones. 

The study authors, who were sponsored by charity Cancer Research UK, said unidentified biological factors could be to blame. 

And although treatment on the National Health Service (NHS) is designed to be equal for all, some cultural factors such as recent immigration to the UK or language barriers may in practice affect use of health services.

Dr Ellen Copson, a Cancer Research UK scientist and one of the study authors, said: “Our study confirms for the first time that black women under 41 in the UK are more likely to have breast cancer recurrence than their white counterparts, despite equal access to healthcare.

“The finding also backs up similar findings in the USA, suggesting that this could be an international trend, but further research is needed to try and pin down the exact cause or causes, so we can tackle this issue.“

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health information, said: “It's worrying that ethnic background may be a factor influencing a woman's chance of surviving breast cancer. We know that some ethnic populations carry higher genetic risks of getting certain types of breast cancer, but if this difference is down to symptom awareness or access to healthcare, that is particularly concerning.

“More research is needed to look into the reason why young black women have higher rates of recurrence, but in the meantime women of any ethnic background should be aware of what is normal for their breasts and get any new lumps or anything unusual checked out by their GP. More often than not breast changes won't mean cancer, but it's best to get any unusual changes checked out.”