Lifestyle explains ethnic differences in breast cancer rates in the UK

Study finds incidence of breast cancer among South Asian and black women in the UK is smaller than among white women


The Million Women Study published in the British Journal of Cancer pointed out that South Asian and black women had more children than white women, were more likely to breastfeed them, and were less likely to drink alcohol and have a first-degree relative with breast cancer. Photo: Getty Images
The Million Women Study published in the British Journal of Cancer pointed out that South Asian and black women had more children than white women, were more likely to breastfeed them, and were less likely to drink alcohol and have a first-degree relative with breast cancer. Photo: Getty Images

New Delhi: Oxford University scientists have found that breast cancer incidence among South Asian and black women in the UK is smaller than among white women because of lifestyle differences that include lower alcohol consumption, having more children and breastfeeding babies.

“The observed differences in the incidence of breast cancer in women of different ethnic groups in England are largely, if not wholly, explained by differences in lifestyle and reproductive factors,” said Toral Gathani, one of the authors of the study published in the British Journal of Cancer on Wednesday.

The Million Women Study, funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council, is following the health of more than one million white women, almost 6,000 south Asian women and almost 5,000 black women in England recruited between 1996 and 2001 when they were aged 50-64 years. Out of these, 217 South Asian women, 180 black women and 45 ,191 white women were reported to have breast cancer.

The study pointed out that South Asian and black women had more children than white women, were more likely to breastfeed them, and were less likely to drink alcohol and have a first-degree relative with breast cancer. South Asian and black women were also less likely to use hormone therapy for the menopause compared with white women.

The survey data showed 75% of south Asian women were non-drinkers, compared with 38% black women and only 23% of white women; 22% of south Asian women and 29% of black women were using hormonal therapy during menopause, compared with 35% of white women.

While 85% of South Asian women and 83% of black women breastfed their children, only 69% of white women did the same.

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