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More on what breast cancer treatment should be -- and what it often is

December 15, 2009 |  7:13 am

CrowdRadiation should follow lumpectomy. That's the recommended procedure for women being treated for breast cancer. It's meant to ensure that remaining cancer cells pose no threat.

But just because this treatment plan is widely acknowledged as the most appropriate doesn't mean every woman gets it. Many older women don't, especially if they're African American.

A study published online Monday in the journal Cancer found that of more than 34,000 Medicare recipients, only 65% of black women received radiation after a lumpectomy. Among white women, a somewhat higher but still not impressive percentage -- 74% -- received such treatment.

Here's the abstract of the findings, released last year by researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and published in Cancer.

The conclusion of the study states: "Our analysis helps define the scope of the treatment disparities in RT [radiotherapy] after BCS [breast-conserving surgery] and underscores the concern that this treatment disparity occurs not merely in isolation but is instead a problem that exists on a national scale. Future efforts to improve breast cancer care will require identifying and overcoming the underlying causes of these racial disparities."

And here's a wider look at the issue of race, ethnicity and breast cancer from Susan G. Komen for the Cure. It states bluntly: "Even though white women get breast cancer at higher rates, African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer."

The complexities are considerable, but the newly published results drive home the points that breast cancer treatment isn't always what it should be -- and that black women aren't getting equal treatment.

Here's what breastcancer.org has to say about lumpectomy. And here's information from the American Cancer Society about various surgeries for breast cancer, explaining breast-conserving surgery, or lumpectomy, and mastectomy.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Breast cancer rates, treatment and outcomes vary by ethnicity. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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