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Targeted breast cancer messages for ethnic minority women urgently needed

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Black and Asian women are significantly more likely than white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer that has spread, reveals research presented at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Birmingham today (Wednesday).

In a study of breast cancer incidence and survival in more than 35,000 women in South East England, 17 per cent of Pakistani women and 15 per cent of Black African women were diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread.

This compared with 7 per cent of white women, who were the group most likely to be diagnosed with the disease overall.

Around nine in ten women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive beyond five years. This drops to around one in ten diagnosed at the latest stage – when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Experts believe that targeted health campaigns that aim to raise awareness of breast cancer symptoms and try to encourage women to go for breast screening are needed if these inequalities are to be removed.

Ruth Jack, study author from the Thames Cancer Registry, King’s College London, said: “Some of the variation in how far the disease has progressed by the time it is diagnosed might be explained purely by differences in the awareness of symptoms and the uptake of breast cancer screening between ethnic groups.

“Black and Asian women were also more likely to die of their breast cancer. But when we removed the effect that stage had on survival, it was the same in each ethnic group.

“We urgently need to step up efforts in targeting breast cancer awareness messages towards ethnic minority groups so that, if they are diagnosed, they have a better chance of surviving the disease.

“Understanding why these delays occur through more research and better data on which ethnic groups are taking up invitations for breast cancer screening will be crucial for helping us effectively target these messages.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK. More than 45,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and the disease causes almost 12,000 deaths each year. Eight in ten cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women over the age of 50.

Chris Carrigan, head of the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), said: “Good quality data is essential to help understand and improve cancer services. The ground-breaking work of the cancer registries and the NCIN now enables us to effectively measure the effect of policies and interventions targeted at reducing inequalities for ethnic minority communities.”

Dr Jane Cope, director of the NCRI, said: “We need more research to better understand why these delays occur, so that we can be more effective in raising the awareness of possible cancer symptoms among all women.

“It’s important that all women, whatever their race, are breast aware, report any changes to the doctor promptly and attend screening appointments when invited – early detection is crucial for successful treatment.”


For media enquiries please contact the NCRI press office 020 7061 8300, or the out-of-hours duty press officer on 07050 264059.


Breast cancer incidence, treatment and survival in ethnic groups in South East England. Ruth Jack. NCRI conference 2009.