Special Report

Does Racism Cause Breast Cancer?

A taxpayer-funded Howard University School of Medicine study says yes.

By 7.13.07

Send to Kindle

"Breast Cancer Link to Racial Discrimination." No doubt that Reuters headline, and others like it, pleased race-baiters who would have us think every problem blacks have is due to persistent prejudice. Sadly for them, the report is politically correct trash that any conscientious landfill would reject.

The headline comes from a study conducted by Associate Professor Teletia Taylor and others at the Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. and published in the July 1 American Journal of Epidemiology. Funding came from the National Cancer Institute -- your tax dollars at work. The researchers had black women complete a document in 1997 that included questions on perceived discrimination in two domains: "everyday" discrimination (such as being treated as dishonest) and major experiences of unfair treatment due to race (such as job, housing, and police).

The women then reported that up to 2003 there were 593 breast cancer cases among them. Comparing the answers to the malignancies, the authors concluded there was "an association between racial discrimination and increased incidence of breast cancer."

Now here's what they didn't tell you.

Among women perceiving any degree of discrimination, the researchers sliced the data 87 different ways. In 84 of these they found no statistically significant associations.

And the three remaining data slices?

One comprised all the women surveyed, regardless of age, who felt they'd been victims of workplace discrimination. The authors reported they had a 20 percent increase (0.20) in relative risk of breast tumors compared to women who didn't feel discriminated against. By further slicing this category to consider only women younger than 50 they were able to boost the apparent increase in risk to 32 percent or 0.32. Finally, by combining the categories of perceived discrimination in jobs, housing and police, and by slicing out those above age 50, they were able to come up with a 48 percent increased risk of 0.48.

Such tiny relative risks are generally considered meaningless, given the inexactitude of epidemiology. Normally, said former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell, "We are looking for a relative risk of three [3.0] or more" before accepting a paper for publication. "My basic rule is if the relative risk isn't at least three or four, forget it," said Robert Temple, then director of drug evaluation at the Food and Drug Administration. The study's own sponsor, the National Cancer Institute, has said "relative risks of less than two are considered small and are usually difficult to interpret."

The exception would be if we were dealing with an extremely large number of cases. But 593 breast cancers are anything but. In fact, in two of those three aforementioned categories the outcome was as close as possible to being non-statistically significant while the third category also brushed up against non-significance.

Ultimately, the authors display a mere will o' the wisp. And here's an inconvenient statistic they didn't bother to relay. Breast cancer rates are much lower for black women than white women. According to the National Institutes for Health, for the latest year for which data are available (PDF), black women have only 84 percent the rate of breast cancer as non-Hispanic white women. Could reverse discrimination cause breast cancer?

Asians, incidentally, have 68 percent the rate of whites and Hispanics 62 percent. Now here's the real stunner. American Indians, plagued by the inherent discrimination of the horrendous reservation system, have less than half the breast cancer rate of non-Hispanic whites.

That doesn't exactly jibe with racism or perceived racism as a carcinogen.

There is also no known biological explanation for why perceived or actual discrimination would cause breast cancer. The authors suggest stress. But nobody has yet found a link between stress and cancer. Unable to proffer a single study showing such an association, the authors instead choose to discuss stress and hypertension!

Does all this sound a tad dishonest? It is. Reread their above conclusion. Notice it doesn't say "perceived racism," but simply "racism." Yet obviously there was no way of measuring actual discrimination, merely the perception of it. The conclusion is a flat-out fabrication, sheer demagoguery wrapped in a mass of numbers.

Black women and blacks generally do have higher rates of other diseases than do whites. But the explanations for most, as with the disparities in breast cancer, will lie primarily in genetics. Lifestyle factors such as diet will also be important. Discrimination, real or perceived, doesn't cause cancer. Nor can race-baiting at taxpayer expense prevent or cure it.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. and a nationally syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.