Breast Cancer among White Women

Line chart showing the changes in breast cancer incidence rates for women of various races and ethnicities.

 

The relationships between health, genetics, and race are complicated for many reasons. As stated in lecture, one of the largest debates and controversies regarding these three topics is how someone’s race is determined. Scientifically, race cannot be determined by genetics; race is a concept that an individual identifies with based on social and cultural environment.  Interestingly enough however, people who identify with a certain race may be more susceptible to evolutionary genetic mutations or certain diseases based on the environment and social activities that the race lives in/ participates in. An example is in West Africa, where malaria is very high in prevalence. Living in West Africa increases a persons risk of getting malaria. However, over evolutionary time, the people of West Africa have developed a genetic way to fight off the mosquito disease. Many West African’s have at least one allele for the sickle cell disease. If someone is born as a carry of sickle cell disease, that is they have one sickle allele and one wild type allele, only half of that person’s hemoglobin will be sickle in nature. With only half their hemoglobin sickle, that person does not feel the full effects of the sickle cell disease, as well as, the parasite injected from the mosquito to cause malaria cannot be held in the body compared to someone with normal alleles because the parasite cannot spread through sickle hemoglobin. As shown, although race is determined by social and ecological factors, and not genetics solely, evolutionarily, living in a place can either increase or decrease a population’s risk of getting certain diseases, in turn, affecting the overall health of the race in that population.

It was very difficult to find an illness or disease more prevalent in white women than any other population. However, I did find that breast cancer is more prevalent in white women than any other race. I hypothesize that the increased risk for breast cancer has a lot to do with social factors. First off, white women have fairer skin, and therefore, are more susceptible to sun burn and UV damage. Socially, it is not uncommon to find white women, as I myself identify with, sun bathing or tanning to decrease or pale complexions and increase our skin’s dark complexions. By exposing ourselves to more sun, we put ourselves at risk for UV damage, scientifically proven to cause cancer cells to form.

 

CDC. Accessed July 9, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/race.htm.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Desirae Jemison says:

    I agree with you when you said “that people who identify with a certain race may be more susceptible to evolutionary genetic mutations or certain diseases based on the environment and social activities that the race lives in”. I also learned something new reading your post, I always thought that breast cancer was more prevalent in African American women then any other race based off of previous research and studies. Also you mentioned that you had difficulty finding an illness or disease more prevalent in white women than any other population, here are a few more diseases were it’s more common in white women: osteoporosis and melanoma. It does seem like white women don’t have a prevalence in many diseases well at least when it comes to the top five common diseases. I’m pretty sure if more research is done that might have diseases that they are prevalent in compared to other groups. I think that was a good point you brought up.

    I think that racial categories are very useful in clinical studies and offer a better way of talking about racialized health disparities because it gives researchers insights on cultures. Race also gives us knowledge on socioeconomic status which tends to sometimes have an affect on a persons health.

  2. Nia Franklin says:

    I can agree with what you are saying about Caucasian women and breast cancer. Not that anyone is exempt from sun burn and skin cancers but having lighter skin certainly puts you more at risk. A situation like this one has everything to do with genetics. People who have ancestry of people who live closer to the equator (African Americans) have more melanin in their skin to protect them from the sun. Someone of European ancestry is going to have practically no melanin to protect them from the UV rays and living in Europe it probably wasn’t needed. Once tanning became popular it probably became more of an issue. I think that has a lot to do with survival and evolution. After watch the “Sickness and in wealth” video I thought that maybe Caucasian women aren’t the ones most susceptible to the cancer. Maybe other minorities couldn’t afford to get annual mammograms or even regular doctor visits. Maybe there is another race that is surpassing Caucasian women in breast cancer but don’t even know they have it because they are uneducated. With America’s health care system there really is no way to know for sure when a large portion of the population isn’t even accounted for.

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