This research using patient data revealed that Black African women in England are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with late stage breast cancer as white women in England. The next step for researchers is to find out why there is this difference and improve earlier diagnosis rates in this group.

Why was this work needed?

Cancer survival in the UK is lower than the European average and this is probably linked to cancers being diagnosed at a later stage. There is significant variation in diagnosis across different ethnic groups and this variation is not always well understood.

What happened?

The quality of ethnicity data collected by hospital trusts has improved in recent years. The cancer registries’ data recording the size of a cancer and how far it has grown when it is diagnosed (cancer staging) has also improved greatly.

These two developments combined mean that it is now possible to look in more detail at any potential relationships between ethnicity and cancer stage at diagnosis.

In this study, researchers looked at four cancer sites (breast, lung, colorectal and prostate) and included ethnic groups where large enough groups of patients would give meaningful results. The analysis showed that Black African women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with late stage breast cancer as white women in England.

What were the benefits?

Early diagnosis of cancer can increase someone’s chance of survival, so it is important to ensure that more people are diagnosed sooner. Now that researchers know that Black African women are likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, they can look for ways to change this. There may be differences in tumour biology, but there also may be an underlying difference in the awareness of symptoms and attitudes to cancer. Information like this is also vital for designing public health campaigns to make sure that all the necessary people are targeted.

What type of data was involved?

This study uses Hospital Episode Statistics and Cancer Registry data.

The data used was de-personalised and analysed in a secure environment within Public Health England.

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

This work is part of a partnership between Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) within Public Health England.

Where can I go for more information?

Black African women almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with late stage breast cancer compared to white women