Breast carcinoma is the most common cancer in women in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Furthermore, there are racial differences in breast carcinoma incidence, mortality, and survival rates. Social and economic factors within racial/ethnic groups are being examined as risk factors not only for breast carcinoma mortality and survival but also as determinants of the rate of incidence. Social and economic factors have been associated in the literature predominantly with cancer mortality and survival. When socioeconomic status (SES) is considered, certain studies suggest that racial disparities in breast carcinoma are smaller than when social and economic factors are examined alone, but these disparities still persist. Sources of data for this discussion include the National Cancer Institute (NCI) (the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results [SEER] program, a group of population-based cancer registries that cover up to 14% of the U.S. population. SEER reports cancer incidence, mortality, and survival rates), the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), and numerous articles from the scientific literature. Socioeconomic factors or SES can be considered "cross-cutting risk factors" (i.e., they can be related to the risk of developing breast carcinoma [rate of incidence] as well as to the risk of dying [mortality] from this disease). They also are the risk factors that "cut across" racial and ethnic populations. Socioeconomic factors are related to breast carcinoma mortality and survival rates in multicultural women. Racial disparities in breast carcinoma mortality and survival rates can be explained partially by stage distribution at the time of diagnosis, which may be related to SES. For example, African-American women present with more advanced stage distributions for breast carcinoma than white women. Similarly, women of lower SES present with higher stage disease than women of upper SES who present with more localized breast carcinoma. The lack of data regarding the SES of cancer patients limits our understanding of the contributions of SES to cancer incidence and mortality rates. SES appears to be related to breast carcinoma incidence, mortality, and survival rates. Breast carcinoma mortality is higher in women of lower SES. Additional research on SES, race, culture, and the relation of these factors to cancer incidence rate is needed.
Copyright 2000 American Cancer Society.