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Surgery. 1999 Apr;125(4):375-9.

Racial differences in the presentation and surgical management of breast cancer.

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  • 1Division of General Surgery, K-8, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, MI 48202-2689, USA.



African American women are seen with more advanced breast cancers, are less likely to be treated with breast-conserving surgery, and generally have poorer prognoses than white women. There are a myriad of potential causes for these phenomena. The purpose of this study was to measure racial differences in the surgical treatment of breast cancer among women with comparable health care access and delivery.


The Breast Cancer Registry of the Department of Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital was accessed for all patients between January 1, 1990, and December 31, 1997 for whom data on race, tumor characteristics, stage, and treatment specifics were available. Socioeconomic information was collected with use of 1990 census block data. Proportions of women who received each treatment were compared for African Americans and whites with use of the relative risk (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI). We used multiple logistic regression to obtain estimates of the relative risk, controlling for potential confounding factors.


Of the 1699 patients in the database, 1250 had sufficient information for analysis. A total of 8.7% of African American women were diagnosed with late-stage disease (i.e., stage III or IV) compared with 7.9% of whites. Nevertheless, African American women had a lower frequency of stage I disease (30.5% vs 36.2%) and a higher frequency of stage II disease (36.8% vs 31.4%). Overall and adjusted risk estimates for age, tumor stage, marital status, median income, and type of insurance revealed no substantive or statistically significant differences between African American and white patients. The adjusted RR for local excision was 1.39 (95% CI 0.78 to 2.49), for lumpectomy and axillary dissection RR 0.92 (95% CI 0.66 to 1.29), for simple mastectomy RR 0.84 (95% CI 0.41 to 1.72), and for modified radical mastectomy RR 1.00 (95% CI 0.73 to 1.36).


In this setting of equal access to health care, African American women still have higher frequencies of stage II disease, although the frequencies for late-stage disease are similar. Nevertheless, no surgical differences were found in this population, even after the effects of socioeconomic indicators and stage at diagnosis were controlled for Survival differences between African American and white women are unlikely to be explained by differences in treatment.

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