Black women with early stage breast cancer less likely to receive full course of chemotherapy

Black women with stage I or II breast cancer are more likely than their counterparts of other races to abandon chemotherapy before completing their full course of treatment, according to a recent Columbia University Medical Center study.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (Sept. 20, 2005), the findings shed new light on why breast black cancer patients experience lower survival rates than other women, despite a lower incidence.

"This study is the first to correlate early termination of chemotherapy with racial disparities in breast cancer outcomes," said Dawn Hershman, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and the Mailman School of Public Health, and the study's lead investigator.

Dr. Hershman and her research team set out to study the association between race and survival with duration of treatment and number of completed chemotherapy cycles. They analyzed the data of 472 stage I and II breast cancer patients enrolled in the tumor registry of the Henry Ford Health System, a large Detroit-area healthcare provider, between 1996 and 2001.

The investigators determined that women who discontinued treatment were more likely to be black and more likely to die than those who completed full chemotherapy cycles. Key findings include:

  • Only 68 percent of black patients (136 out of 202 total) -- compared to 76 percent of white patients (206 out of 270 total) -- completed all prescribed cycles of chemotherapy.
  • 93 percent of all white patients in the study group were alive five years after diagnosis; compared to 81 percent of black patients.
  • A significant number of patients -- 130 out of 472 subjects, nearly 28 percent of the total study population -- did not receive complete treatment (defined here as less than 85 percent of the number of expected cycles).
  • The overall five-year survival rate for the total pat

Contact: Elizabeth Streich
Columbia University Medical Center

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