Study Examines Health Disparities in Breast Cancer

02/08/2006

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are conducting a study of racial disparities among breast cancer patients in Chicago. It is the first major effort to examine how a woman's neighborhood, social network and cultural beliefs impact the care she receives.

"We know that minorities are disproportionately affected by breast cancer, and the gap is widening in Chicago," said Richard Warnecke, director of the UIC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities and principal investigator of the study. "White, black and Hispanic women are getting mammograms in roughly equal proportions, yet minority women are more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced disease and to die from it when compared with Caucasians."

Warnecke and his colleagues suspect that many factors, including stress, access to public transportation, neighborhood gentrification, and beliefs about the causes of cancer and the effectiveness of treatment, play a major role in why some women are not diagnosed until they have late stage disease.

The UIC study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, will enroll 1,200 newly diagnosed breast cancer patients (500 Caucasians, 350 African-Americans and 350 Hispanics) between 21 and 79 years old who live in Chicago.

Women who agree to participate will be interviewed about their experience with diagnosis, treatment, social support and community involvement.

They may also choose to take part in additional components of the study by providing the names of friends and family members to participate in interviews; by giving access to their medical records; by providing a blood sample; and by allowing investigators to request a tumor tissue sample from where they received treatment for further analysis.

The breast cancer patients are identified by the Illinois State Cancer Registry and asked to participate in the study. Only women who agree to be part of the study will be contacted by Warnecke's team.

The registry was established and is maintained by the state to identify newly diagnosed cases of cancer to support research and improve survival. The registry maintains the confidentiality of patient identifying information.

According to Warnecke, the registry's main job is to inform women that their participation in the study will help researchers to better understand breast cancer.

"This study will help us to understand what factors influence access to breast cancer screening, what barriers exist in obtaining care, and how the time between diagnosis and treatment may impact a successful outcome," said Warnecke.

The stage of cancer at diagnosis is frequently the most accurate predictor of survival, according to Warnecke. When detected early, breast cancer can be treated and often cured.

Current estimates suggest that African American women are twice as likely as Caucasians to die within five years of a breast cancer diagnosis, while Hispanic women are 1.5 times as likely to die from the disease.

The results of the study will be used to design and test a community-based strategy to address the disparities in breast cancer and to help lower the incidence of death among minority women in Chicago.

Other partners in the study include the Illinois Department of Public Health, Chicago Department of Public Health, Healthcare Consortium of Illinois, Healthy South Chicago, and Greater Roseland District Health Council.

The UIC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities is one of eight National Institutes of Health-funded centers to study racial and ethnic disparities in health.

This news release was written by Sherri McGinnis González of the UIC News Bureau.