Background: The lower breast cancer incidence in minority women and the higher breast cancer mortality in African American women than in white women are largely unexplained. The influence of breast cancer risk factors on these differences has received little attention.
Methods: Racial/ethnic differences in breast cancer incidence and outcome were examined in 156,570 postmenopausal women participating in the Women's Health Initiative. Detailed information on breast cancer risk factors including mammography was collected, and participants were followed prospectively for breast cancer incidence, pathological breast cancer characteristics, and breast cancer mortality. Comparisons of breast cancer incidence and mortality across racial/ethnic groups were estimated as hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) from Cox proportional hazard models. Tumor characteristics were compared as odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals in logistic regression models.
Results: After median follow-up of 6.3 years, 3938 breast cancers were diagnosed. Age-adjusted incidences for all minority groups (i.e., African American, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander) were lower than for white women, but adjustment for breast cancer risk factors accounted for the differences for all but African Americans (HR = 0.75, 95% CI = 0.61 to 0.92) corresponding to 29 cases and 44 cases per 10,000 person years for African American and white women, respectively. Breast cancers in African American women had unfavorable characteristics; 32% of those in African Americans but only 10% in whites were both high grade and estrogen receptor negative (adjusted OR = 4.70, 95% CI = 3.12 to 7.09). Moreover, after adjustment for prognostic factors, African American women had higher mortality after breast cancer than white women (HR = 1.79, 95% CI = 1.05 to 3.05) corresponding to nine and six deaths per 10 000 person-years from diagnosis in African American and white women, respectively.
Conclusion: Differences in breast cancer incidence rates between most racial/ethnic groups were largely explained by risk factor distribution except in African Americans. However, breast cancers in African American women more commonly had characteristics of poor prognosis, which may contribute to their increased mortality after diagnosis.