Objective: The black:white disparity in breast cancer mortality has been increasing in the U.S. In order to gain insight into this disparity in Chicago, we examined mortality data together with other important measures associated with breast cancer.
Methods: Trends in black:white female breast cancer mortality, incidence, stage at diagnosis, and mammography screening in Chicago were examined using data from the Illinois State Cancer Registry, Illinois Department of Public Health Vital Records, and the Illinois Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Results: The breast cancer mortality rate for black women in Chicago for 1999-2003 was 49% higher than that of white women, but the disparity is a recent phenomenon that is increasing rapidly. In 2003 the black rate was 68% higher than the white rate. Mortality rates were similar in the 1980's and only started to diverge in the 1990's as a result of a sharp improvement in mortality among white women contrasted with no improvement for black women. This lack of progress for black women is perplexing given that self-reported mammography screening rates have been the same for blacks and whites in Chicago since at least 1996 and that the early detection of breast cancer for black women has been increasing.
Conclusions: There has been no improvement in mortality from breast cancer for black women in Chicago in 23 years. This study, along with a review of the literature, lends support to the hypothesis that the disparities in breast cancer mortality are due to differential access to mammography, differential quality in mammography, and differential access to treatment for breast cancer. Fortunately, all three are amenable to intervention, which would help ameliorate this unacceptable disparity.