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Breast cancer link to ethnicity

17 December 2012

Patients of various ethnic groups had differences in breast cancer size, severity and survival rate

Photo: Used with Permission from INNOVATION magazine, Vol 10, No 3, 2011, page 44
A joint study by researchers in Singapore and Malaysia has found differences in breast cancer size, severity and survival rate among various ethnic groups.

"As clinicians, we have the impression that breast cancer presentation varies between the three ethnic groups here in Singapore. The impression is that Malay women present later and are less likely to accept all treatment options that are offered to them," said team member Assistant Professor Mikael Hartman who is from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS.

It was found that 79.8 per cent of Malay patients completed treatment compared with 92.7 per cent of Chinese patients and 90.2 per cent of Indian patients.

Assistant Prof Hartman said that in the US, data show that breast cancer outcomes vary between races, with African American women having poorer results. While the link between ethnicity and breast cancer is not new, there has been no Southeast Asian study.

To look into this, some 5,200 patients from the National University Hospital, Singapore and the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), Kuala Lumpur were examined. About 3,700 Chinese, 970 Malays and 530 Indians diagnosed with invasive breast cancer between 1990 and 2007 were surveyed by researchers from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and UMMC.

The study was conducted in 2011 and published in online scientific journal PLOS ONE earlier this year.

Malay patients were diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age but with the cancer at a later stage. The median tumour size in Malay patients was bigger at 35mm in diameter, compared with Chinese and Indian patients at 25mm and 30mm in diameter, respectively.

Malay patients were less likely to complete their treatment with their survival rate being lower than the other two ethnic groups. In fact, 34.4 per cent of Malays survived stage 3 and stage 4 of breast cancer. Chinese and Indian patients had more than 40 per cent survival rate.

A more in-depth research needs to be carried out as the study did not look at the cause of death of the breast cancer patients. Lifestyle factors and co-morbidities were also not taken into consideration.