Date Published: 8 January 2014

Study links ethnic differences in breast cancer rates to lifestyle

Recent research published in the British Journal of Cancer suggests that differences in lifestyle and reproductive factors (such as number of pregnancies and duration of breastfeeding) are the main reasons behind lower breast cancer rates in South Asian and black women, compared with white women in the UK.

Although it has been known that breast cancer incidence rates in England are lower in black and South Asian women compared with white women, the reasons for these differences have not been fully understood until recently.

Information from the Million Women Study, a national study of women's health, involving more than one million UK women aged 50 and over, indicated that South Asian women had an 18% lower rate of breast cancer compared with white women, and black women had a 15% lower rate of breast cancer compared with white women - according to comparison of women of the same age and region of residence within the UK.

Other relevant information includes the general trends that both South Asian and black women tend to drink less alcohol and have more children than white women, both of these being factors considered to influence the risk of developing breast cancer. When these, and other lifestyle and reproductive factors were excluded from the analysis, the risk of developing breast cancer was found to be similar for women of all ethnic groups. It was also noted that many of the black and South Asian women in the study were first-generation immigrants. One comment about the study concerned the possibility that as second and subsequent generations of women of ethnic minority origin change their lifestyles, their risk of breast cancer might increase and tend towards the statistics recently observed for white women.

Dr Toral Gathani from Oxford University and an author of the recent study, said:

" In this study of largely postmenopausal women in England, we see that the lower risk of breast cancer in South Asian and black women is largely explained by differences in lifestyle and reproductive patterns. It's important for women of all ethnic groups to understand what are the modifiable risk factors for breast cancer, such as obesity and excessive alcohol consumption, and to take measures to reduce their risk."

General Advice from the website

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health information, said:

" Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by cutting down on alcohol, keeping a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and by keeping active.
_ If women notice any changes to their breast such as lumps, any skin or nipple changes, or changes in their size, shape or feel they should tell their doctor straightaway. It's probably not cancer, but if it is, getting it diagnosed as early as possible gives the best chance of survival.

The significance of this research is highlighted by recent statistics about breast cancer in the UK. It is the most common cancer in the UK, where more than 49,500 women are diagnosed with the disease anually and around 11,600 women die from it each year. However, the good news is that breast cancer survival rates have been improving dramatically over time so that today almost 80% of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK survive beyond 10 years.

Source: Cancer Research UK

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