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From Race to Racism and Disparities to Equity: An Actionable Biopsychosocial Approach to Breast Cancer Outcomes.

Cancer Journal 2023 November
PURPOSE: Racial disparities in outcomes of breast cancer in the United States have widened over more than 3 decades, driven by complex biologic and social factors. In this review, we summarize the biological and social narratives that have shaped breast cancer disparities research across different scientific disciplines in the past, explore the underappreciated but crucial ways in which these 2 strands of the breast cancer story are interwoven, and present 5 key strategies for creating transformative interdisciplinary research to achieve equity in breast cancer treatment and outcomes.

DESIGN: We first review the key differences in tumor biology in the United States between patients racialized as Black versus White, including the overrepresentation of triple-negative breast cancer and differences in tumor histologic and molecular features by race for hormone-sensitive disease. We then summarize key social factors at the interpersonal, institutional, and social structural levels that drive inequitable treatment. Next, we explore how biologic and social determinants are interwoven and interactive, including historical and contemporary structural factors that shape the overrepresentation of triple-negative breast cancer among Black Americans, racial differences in tumor microenvironment, and the complex interplay of biologic and social drivers of difference in outcomes of hormone receptor positive disease, including utilization and effectiveness of endocrine therapies and the role of obesity. Finally, we present 5 principles to increase the impact and productivity of breast cancer equity research.

RESULTS: We find that social and biologic drivers of breast cancer disparities are often cyclical and are found at all levels of scientific investigation from cells to society. To break the cycle and effect change, we must acknowledge and measure the role of structural racism in breast cancer outcomes; frame biologic, psychosocial, and access factors as interwoven via mechanisms of cumulative stress, inflammation, and immune modulation; take responsibility for the impact of representativeness (or the lack thereof) in genomic and decision modeling on the ability to accurately predict the outcomes of Black patients; create research that incorporates the perspectives of people of color from inception to implementation; and rigorously evaluate innovations in equitable cancer care delivery and health policies.

CONCLUSIONS: Innovative, cross-disciplinary research across the biologic and social sciences is crucial to understanding and eliminating disparities in breast cancer outcomes.

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