Background: Recent studies suggest differences in quality and timeliness of care received may be major contributing sources to the racial disparity in breast cancer detection and related outcomes.
Methods: Female patients with breast cancer diagnosed during 1985-1993 (n=400) and followed through June 20, 2001, were included in this retrospective cohort study. Three white patients were selected randomly and matched to each black patient by year of diagnosis. Method and timing of diagnosis and timing of treatment were abstracted from medical records. Initial staging and subsequent breast cancer recurrence and vital status were obtained from the Hospital and Connecticut State Tumor Registry.
Results: Black women were more likely than white women to be diagnosed after a patient-noted abnormality. Black women were less likely than white women to have completed a diagnostic evaluation within 30 days after a patient-noted abnormality (P <0.01) or after having an abnormality noted on screening mammogram (P=0.0001) and were less likely to have initiated treatment within 30 days of diagnosis (P=0.0001). Women diagnosed after a patient-noted abnormality were more likely to have subsequent breast cancer recurrence and/or death due to breast cancer compared with women diagnosed after a screening mammogram (56% versus 24%, respectively, P <0.05).
Conclusions: Racial differences were identified at each step in the evaluation and treatment clinical pathway, including method of detection, timing from first symptoms of cancer to pathologic diagnosis, and timing from diagnosis to initiation of treatment. The findings highlight the need to provide equal opportunity for timely medical care and treatment.