South Asian women should no longer be considered at low risk of breast cancer

Researchers from the University of Sheffield have discovered a significant increase in breast cancer cases in South Asian women – a group who were previously considered at lower risk.

Experts from the University's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health examined breast cancer rates in the South Asian population in Leicester. Previous studies in the UK have found that incidence of breast cancer is lower in the South Asian population compared to other groups.

Breast cancer data from the National Cancer Registration Service and 2001 census were used to calculate rates of the condition over a 10 year period between 2000 and 2009. Trends were compared between South Asian women and other ethnicities between socioeconomic groups.

Between 2000-2004, South Asian women were found to have a 45 per cent lower rate of breast cancer compared to white women – as found in previous studies.

However, by the 2005-2009 period rates of breast cancer among South Asian women had increased significantly and was eight per cent higher than white women, whose rates had not changed over the study period.

Radiology technician examines mammography testIn South Asian women over the age of 65 years, this change was statistically significant with a 37 per cent higher risk of breast cancer than white women.

For all ethnicities combined, rates of breast cancer did not change with socioeconomic deprivation in 2000-2004, but in 2005-2009 it increased with socioeconomic deprivation, contrary to national trends.

Lead study author Matthew Day, Honorary Lecturer in ScHARR, said: “Historically South Asian women, and women in lower socioeconomic groups, have been considered at lower risk of developing breast cancer. Based on our study in Leicester, this should no longer be considered the case."

He added: “The exact causes behind this change are not clear cut, they could relate to increases in screening uptake among these groups of women, which have in the past been shown to be lower than in other groups. Or they could be due to changes in lifestyle factors, like having fewer children and having them later in life, increased use of oral contraceptives, and increased smoking and alcohol intake – factors linked to increased breast cancer risk across the board.”

Dr Mick Peake, Clinical Lead at Public Health England’s National Cancer Intelligence Network, said: “The results of the Leicester study should assist public health services to both plan for, and respond to, the changing risk profile of breast cancer in the population, particularly with regards Asian women who for a long time have been another group whose attendance rate for screening has been low.

“At the individual level, if women are concerned about breast cancer, they should speak to their GP.”

Additional information

One year survival rates for breast cancer is approximately 95 per cent, and five year survival is around 85 per cent.

Public Health England
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National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), operated by Public Health England
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Amy Pullan
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The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859