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Cancer. 2003 Aug 1;98(3):590-6.

Racial differences in mammographic breast density.

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Vincent Memorial Gynecologic Oncology Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.



African American women have a lower incidence but a higher mortality from breast carcinoma than Caucasians. A proposed explanation for this discrepancy is the decreased efficacy of screening among African American women. Increased breast density in African American women may result in decreased sensitivity of mammography. The purpose of this article is to determine whether there is a difference in mammographic breast density between African American and Caucasian women.


A series of 769 women were recruited from 5 sites. Mammograms were reviewed centrally by seven reviewers using Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System categories converted to numeric values. The mean mammographic densities for Caucasian, African American, and Latina patients were compared using a two-way analysis of covariance. The mean values for each race were estimated adjusting for the reader as well as for each patient's age and body mass index (BMI).


African American women had the lowest mean breast density. The reported density in this group was 2.43, compared with 2.69 among Caucasians and 2.65 among Latina patients. After adjusting for age and BMI as well as the reader, there was still an independent racial effect on breast density (P = 0.0050).


Mammographic breast density was lower in African American women than in Caucasians and Latinas. This discrepancy may be an intrinsic racial difference due to undetermined causes. Factors, such as the growth rate of tumors and the incidence of calcifications, must be studied to confirm that other forces do not have a negative impact on the efficacy of screening mammograms in African American women.

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