Posted on April 14, 2005

Black Women are Less Likely Than Whites to Seek Information on Genetic Breast Cancer

Lindsey Tanner, AP, Apr. 12

CHICAGO — Black women with a family history of breast cancer are much less likely than whites to get genetic counseling, in part because of the mistaken notion that the genetic form of the illness is a white woman’s disease, researchers say.

While breast cancer generally is more common among white women, some data suggest both races have similar rates of genetic flaws known as BRCA mutations that greatly increase the risk of developing the disease. Also, breast-cancer mortality rates are higher in black women.

In a study published in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers questioned 408 women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Only 16 of the 71 blacks studied — about 22 percent — got genetic counseling, compared with 184 of the 310 white women, or about 60 percent.

Counseling to evaluate risks is generally a prerequisite for genetic testing.

Racial disparities are common when it comes to preventive medical care, but “the size of the difference was really surprising,” Dr. Katrina Armstrong, a cancer researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who led the study.

Armstrong said the gap might reflect fears of discrimination and a general distrust of the medical establishment, while others said some blacks might be reluctant to talk about cancer.