To examine racial/ethnic differences in breast cancer mortality over time by menopausal status, data from published U.S. Vital Statistics tables (1950-1992) and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute (1973-1991) were used to calculate age-adjusted breast cancer mortality and incidence rates. Overall, breast cancer mortality rates for white women were relatively stable from 1950 to 1992. In contrast, breast cancer mortality rates for black women increased during this period. Among premenopausal women there was no difference in breast cancer mortality between black and white women from 1950 to about 1975. However, after 1975, mortality rates in black premenopausal women increased, whereas those in white women decreased. Among postmenopausal women, breast cancer mortality was substantially lower in blacks than in whites in 1950. Between 1950 and 1992, rates in blacks increased and eventually exceeded rates in whites, which remained stable during this period. This excess in breast cancer mortality in black women is not explained by changes in breast cancer incidence rates. There is an unexplained epidemic of breast cancer mortality in black women that appears to differ somewhat by menopausal status. Reasons for temporal increases in breast cancer mortality seen only among black women need to be identified, as do reasons for the heterogeneity of trends by menopausal status.
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