In the current analysis of 1,204 women 35 to 64 years of age, with a median follow-up of 10 years, we did not observe any statistically significant black-white differences in cancer-specific or all-cause mortality among women diagnosed with TN subtype. We did, however, find that black women had statistically significant greater all-cause mortality risk than white women among those ages 50–64 years who were diagnosed with luminal A tumors, and more specifically among those diagnosed with luminal A/p53- breast cancer. However, no tests for homogeneity of race-specific HRs comparing luminal A to TN subtype and luminal A/p53- to luminal A/p53+ subtype achieved statistical significance.
The results from four previous epidemiologic studies that compared mortality risk or survival in black and white women diagnosed with luminal A or TN or basal-like subtype are inconsistent [4–7]. One study with 11 to 13 years of follow-up of 476 (116 black, 360 white) Atlanta women diagnosed between 1990 and 1992 with invasive breast cancer at ages 20–54 years found that risk of all-cause mortality was greater among black women than among white women for both luminal A cancer (unadjusted HR, 1.6; 95% CI, 1.1 to 2.4) and TN breast cancer (unadjusted HR, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.3 to 3.3). The racial difference disappeared for luminal A breast cancer after adjustment for age, stage, and grade (adjusted HR, 1.1; 95% CI, 0.7 to 1.6), whereas it persisted for TN breast cancer even after additional adjustment for poverty level, treatment, and comorbidities (adjusted HR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.0 to 3.7) . A second, smaller study followed 124 (88 black, 36 white) women ages 26–82 years with invasive TN breast cancer treated at the University of Tennessee Cancer Institute, Memphis, between 2003 and 2008 for a median of 23 months . Older black breast cancer patients (≥55 years at diagnosis) with TN breast cancer had poorer breast cancer-specific survival than older white women. A third study compared 331 lower income AA women with 203 lower income non-AA women consisting of 115 Hispanic and 88 non-Hispanic white women, who were treated for breast cancer at a large urban public hospital providing care to the medically uninsured in metropolitan Chicago between 2000 and 2005 . This study found that AA women had a higher crude all-cause mortality risk than non-AA women (HR, 1.45; 95% CI, 1.03 to 2.05) irrespective of the subtypes defined by ER, PR, and HER2 status. Results from the Carolina Breast Cancer Study, which followed 1,149 (518 black, 631 white) women with invasive breast cancer from diagnosis between 1993 and 2001 through 2006, are consistent with our results. This study found that the black-white difference in breast cancer-specific mortality was observed for women diagnosed with luminal A breast cancer, but not for those diagnosed with basal-like (ER-/PR-/HER2- plus HER1+ and/or CK 5/6+) breast cancer (age-, date of diagnosis-, and stage at diagnosis-adjusted HR, 1.9; 95% CI, 1.3 to 2.9 and HR, 1.3; HR, 0.8 to 2.3 for luminal A and basal-like breast cancer, respectively) .
An analysis comparing the outcomes of 405 black women with 4,412 nonblack women who had stage I-III breast cancer and who participated in a National Cancer Institute-sponsored randomized phase III trial also provides supporting evidence for our results . Breast cancer-specific and overall survival was lower in black women with luminal A disease than in nonblack women, but no racial differences were observed for women with other subtypes of breast cancer.
Based on our knowledge, this is the first study to examine if the overexpression status of p53 protein impacts the black-white disparities in mortality of TN or luminal A breast cancer. Our data showed that p53 protein expression status could impact black-white mortality differences, and this was most evident for older women diagnosed with luminal A breast cancer. A possible explanation for no black-white difference in mortality risk for older women with luminal A/p53+ tumor is that luminal A/p53+ tumor is currently less likely to be treatable for either black women or white women since mutations in p53 are associated with resistance to chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and poor prognosis [31, 32]. The reasons for a statistically significantly higher risk in all-cause mortality rather than in breast cancer-specific mortality in older black women diagnosed with luminal A/p53- tumor than their white counterparts, could be related to several adverse factors for overall survival, such as more comorbidities [7, 52] and less access to adequate health care because of lower socioeconomic status . The adjustments for all these factors could attenuate the observed black-white difference in all-cause mortality risk. Unfortunately, we have data only for potential comorbidities diagnosed prior to breast cancer and for education which can serve as as a rough proxy for social economic status. In our study, the HR for black-white difference in all-cause mortality in older women diagnosed with luminal A/p53- breast cancer decreased from 2.22 (95% CI, 1.30 to 3.79) to 1.64 (0.90 to 3.01) and the HR for black-white difference in breast cancer-specific mortality in older women diagnosed with luminal A/p53- breast cancer decreased from 1.89 (95% CI, 0.93 to 3.86) to 1.50 (95% CI, 0.66 to 3.43), after additionally adjusting for the number of comorbidities (zero, one, two or more including hypertension, myocardial infarction, stroke, diabetes, and cancers other than nonmelanoma skin cancers) and education (≤high school, technical school/some college, college graduate; results not shown).
This study had several limitations. First, we were unable to request tissue for all eligible women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in the two study sites because of funding constraints. However, we obtained paraffin-embedded tissue for 80% of the samples requested. Second, we did not have breast cancer treatment information available and therefore did not adjust for treatments in our analyses. Although we have presumed that controlling for age, stage of disease, and the status of the four tumor markers has provided some control for treatment, previous studies have reported that black women may receive less optimal treatment than white women [54–58]. Black women are more likely to delay the initiation of treatment , less likely to receive surgery  or optimal adjuvant systemic therapy , less likely to adhere to recommended treatment regimens , and more likely to terminate treatment prematurely  than white women. If any black-white differences in treatment existed in our participants, the HRs for a black-white difference in mortality risk could be overestimated, but it is unlikely that this bias would differ across tumor subtypes. Third, although our HRs for a black-white difference in both breast cancer-specific and all-cause mortality suggest that a large black-white difference in mortality risk may exist in women diagnosed with HER2-enriched tumors, the number of deaths was limited for this analysis. Fourth, due to funding limitations, we evaluated p53 protein expression, but not p53 mutations. Although previous research shows that p53 protein expression and p53 mutation status determined by FISH analysis are strongly correlated, our assessment of p53 protein expression by IHC may have misclassified some tumors. Fifth, although the agreement in the classification for ER and PR status between the SEER registry and centralized laboratory was substantial , we repeated the analyses for TN and luminal A and their subtypes defined by p53 status using ER/PR status from SEER instead of those from the centralized laboratory for the 918 women who had both ER and PR expression status in SEER; we obtained similar results (data not shown). Finally, our study provides evidence suggesting that black-white differences in mortality vary by tumor subtypes among older women. However, the number of deaths among older black women with TN subtype was small resulting in limited statistical power to detect statistically significant difference in race-specific HRs between luminal A and TN breast cancer. The number of deaths among older black women with luminal A/p53+ subtype was also small resulting in limited statistical power to detect significant difference in race-specific HRs between luminal A/p53- and luminal A/p53+ subtype. Therefore, confirmation of our results will require larger studies to demonstrate statistically meaningful differences.