Rates of breast cancer in the U.S. vary by race and ethnicity.
White and now African-American women have the highest incidence (rate of new breast cancer cases) overall and Asian-American and Pacific Islander women have the lowest (see Figure 2.3 below) .
The lifetime risk (up to age 85) of breast cancer for women in the U.S. is 12 percent [5-6]. However, this risk varies by race and ethnic group.
Note that “lifetime” is defined as up to age 85 for overall women by age group, but up to 80 when data are reported by racial and ethnic groups.
Race and ethnicity
Lifetime risk of breast cancer (up to age 80)
Hispanic (may include other ethnic groups)
American Indian or Alaska Native
Asian-American or Pacific Islander
Adapted from SEER data .
The main reason seems to be that women from different racial and ethnic groups have different prevalence rates of risk factors for breast cancer .
Known risk factors that vary by race and ethnicity include [218-222]:
For example, compared to Hispanic/Latina women and African-American women, white women are more likely to put off childbirth and to have fewer children, each of which increases the risk of breast cancer [7,218,220-222].
Learn more about rates of breast cancer by race and ethnicity.
Overall, white and now African-American women have about the same rates of breast cancer .
However, there are differences when looking at these rates by age. Among women over 60, white women have higher rates of breast cancer compared to African-American women . Among women younger than 45, African-American women women have higher rates of breast cancer compared to white women .
The reasons behind these differences are under study. They may include differences in prevalence rates of some reproductive and lifestyle factors related to breast cancer risk as well as differences in tumor biology [218-225].
The biology of breast tumors also varies by race and ethnicity. Triple negative breast cancers are more common among African-American women than among women of other ethnicities [221,226-228].
Triple negative breast cancers are:
Triple negative tumors have a poorer prognosis compared to other other subtypes of breast cancer (at least within the first five years after diagnosis) [221,229-231].
Some lifestyle factors may play a role in the higher rate of triple negative breast cancer among African-American women. Studies have found that compared to white women, African-American women tend to have lower rates of breastfeeding and tend to carry excess weight in the abdomen area, both of which may increase the chances of having triple negative tumors [222,232-234].
Certain reproductive and lifestyle factors may also protect more against estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancers than ER-negative breast cancers, including triple negative breast cancers.
So, although African-American women may be more likely than white women to have these protective factors, they may not lower the risk of triple negative breast cancers as much as they lower the risk of ER-positive cancers. For example, African-American women are more likely than white women to [222,232-233]:
Although these factors lower the risk of breast cancer, this benefit may be limited to ER-positive breast cancers [57,222,232-234]. There is even some evidence that these factors may increase the risk of triple negative breast cancers [57,222,232-234]. However, data are limited.
These topics are under active study.
Learn more about triple negative breast cancer.
Learn more about the molecular subtypes of breast cancer.
Learn about differences in breast cancer rates in the U.S. and around the world.
Facts for Life: Racial & Ethnic Differences
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