Black women experience longer waits for treatment initiation than white women after a breast cancer diagnosis, and their duration of treatment is prolonged, according to new research.

In the study published early online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society (ACS), researchers evaluated whether two aspects of care—time to treatment and duration of treatment—may be contributing factors.

Previous research has shown that Black women face a higher risk of dying from breast cancer than white women despite similar rates of breast cancer occurrence, and this disparity is especially high among younger women. 

The investigators’ analysis included 2,841 participants (roughly equal numbers of Black and white women) with stage I-III breast cancer in the Carolina Breast Cancer Study, a population-based study of women with invasive breast cancer.

Black women appear to experience unique barriers to breast cancer treatment

The overall median time to treatment initiation was 34 days. More Black women experienced a delayed time to treatment (13.4% versus 7.9%) and a prolonged duration of treatment (29.9% versus 21.1%) compared with white women.

Thirty-two percent of young Black women were in the highest quartile of treatment duration, compared with 22.3% of younger white women; similarly, 27.9% of older Black women experienced prolonged treatment duration compared with 19.9% of older white women.

Also, among women with high socioeconomic status, 11.7% of Black women experienced delays in initiating treatment compared with 6.7% of white women.

Lead author Marc Emerson from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said: “Even among women with low socioeconomic status, we still saw fewer delays among white women, underscoring the disparate experience of Black women, who appear to experience unique barriers."