By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - May 19, 2021
Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for about 10% to 15% of all breast cancer diagnoses. The name refers to the fact that cancer cells for this type of disease test negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and excess HER2 protein. Because of this, triple-negative breast cancer tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer and leads to poorer outcomes for patients.
Now, a new study is shedding light on disparities in treatment and survival of this type of cancer. The results published by JAMA Oncology found that Black women have a significantly higher risk of death from nonmetastatic triple-negative breast cancer than white women.
The retrospective study, led by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, followed 23,123 women who had been diagnosed with nonmetastatic triple-negative breast cancer between 2010 and 2015 and followed through 2016. They found that while most women had surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, Black women were less likely to receive surgical treatments and chemotherapy compared with white women.
“Often, there are differences in treatment along racial lines. But these treatments are paramount to properly caring for women with breast cancer,” said Dr. Kimberley Lee, a medical oncologist in the Breast Oncology Department at Moffitt Cancer Center.
When looking at survival, the researchers found that Black women had a higher rate of breast cancer-specific mortality than white women. The cumulative breast cancer-specific survival five years after diagnosis was 82.9% for white women and 76.9% for Black women.
But Lee says there are other factors that should be considered when reviewing these results.
“While this study showed increased risk of death from breast cancer among Black women compared to white women even when both groups received chemotherapy, we do not know what type of chemotherapy these women received,” said Lee. “Studies have shown that Black women are more likely to get nonstandard, inferior chemotherapy regimens for breast cancer. If this is happening here, then it may also explain some of the racial differences seen in breast cancer survival.”
Lee added that more needs to be done to ensure Black women are getting the guideline recommended standard of care for their disease, no matter what type of breast cancer they may have.
“We also need to improve the representation of Black women in clinical trials and conduct more research to understand the biological drivers of breast cancer among this population so that we can further optimize treatments accordingly,” said Lee.