White women more likely to get breast cancer due to lifestyle

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Breast Cancer Awareness

New research indicates that white women are at a greater risk of developing breast cancer than black women due to differences in lifestyle and reproductive patterns.

Researchers from Oxford University’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit conducted the study, which found that black and South Asian women in England have reduced rates of breast cancer than their white counterparts.

Alcohol consumption, number of children and breastfeeding are just some of the factors contributing to higher cancer rates among white women, according to the study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

The study used data from Oxford University’s Million Women Study that involved women living in the UK who were 50 years and older.

According to the data, women in England and South Asia have an 18% lower rate of breast cancer, compared with white women – and black women have an even lower rate of 15%, compared with white women.

However, these differences in risk vanished once the researchers factored in lifestyle and reproductive practices.

"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," explained lead author Dr. Toral Gathani, a clinical epidemiologist and consultant surgeon.

For example, white women tend to drink more alcohol, breastfeed less, and not have as many children as black and South Asian females.


White women are also more likely to have close relatives who’ve had breast cancer, which makes them more genetically predisposed for the disease; thus, further increasing their risk of having breast cancer.

This does not mean that black and South Asian women will continue to have a lower risk for the disease however.

According to the researchers, the black and South Asian women who participated in the study are first generation immigrants now living in the UK. It is therefore expected that the risk of breast cancer for these women will increase as their children and grandchildren’s lifestyles become more westernized over the passage of time.

In light of the foregoing, Dr Gathani urges women of all races to learn about the risk factors for breast cancer – like overdrinking and overeating – and taking action to prevent alcohol abuse and obesity in order to reduce their risk of getting the disease.

In the UK, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, whereas it is the second most common cancer in America (next to skin cancer). Approximately 1 in 8 women in the United States will get invasive breast cancer at some point during their life, according to the American Cancer Society.

However, despite the increase in women developing breast cancer, the rate of survival is also increasing, with 80 percent of women surviving for over 10 years following diagnosis.

Meanwhile, there are steps women can take to reduce their risk of breast cancer, such as limiting alcohol intake and incorporating other lifestyle changes to improve overall health – like regular exercise and eating more nutritious foods.

If you do find a lump or any other change in your breasts though, see your doctor right immediately because early detection increases your chance of survival.

SOURCE: Ethnic differences in breast cancer incidence in England are due to differences in known risk factors for the disease: prospective study; T Gathani, R Ali, A Balkwill, J Green, G Reeves, V Beral and K A Moser on behalf of the Million Women Study Collaborators;British Journal of Cancer (2014) 110, 224-229; DOI:10.1038/bjc.2013.632.