A new analysis of breast cancer is giving doctors and patients a wealth of information geared at helping to diagnose and treat the disease. The data was presented in a report released Monday by four major cancer groups in the U.S., including the American Cancer Society. It provides the most detailed analysis to date of breast cancer risk by age, race and geography.
According to the report black women have nearly twice the rate of triple negative breast cancer -- the deadliest form -- as white women and have the highest mortality rate from any form of breast cancer.
Zelma Watkins was only 44 when a routine mammogram turned up something suspicious.
"The fact that I had a mammogram every year and they never had to take additional pictures," said Watkins. "I was thinking that something was not quite right."
Watkins had triple negative breast cancer. Oncologists divide breast cancer into four different molecular types that help determine treatment. The most common form, with the best prognosis, is treatable with hormonal therapy. But Watkins' cancer required intensive chemotherapy.
"Once you hear the word 'cancer' you pretty much don't hear anything else," said Watkins.
Researchers used to think the poor outcome in blacks was due to higher poverty rates leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment. But new information surfaced in the report that suggests there are other factors at play.
"There were actually other clues that there might be some biological differences in breast cancer as well," said Dr. Lisa Newman, a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer. "This report confirms that suspicion. Breast cancer afflicts African-American women in different ways."
Watkins volunteers with Sisters Network Inc., a group that carries out breast cancer education and outreach for black women.
"I don't why I had triple negative breast cancer, it does not run in my family," said Watkins. "But the fact that I was receiving my annual mammograms, it was detected at an early stage."
Dr. Newman stressed that breast cancer has the best prognosis when caught early. She said that makes screening especially important in black women who are at the highest risk for the deadliest form.