Findings from two new studies reveal that race, socioeconomic status and lack of health insurance may be linked to breast cancer treatment delays and reduced survival rates, according to studies published in JAMA Surgery and reported by HealthDay News.

Researcher Hoda Anton-Culver, PhD, chair of epidemiology at the University of California at Irvine found that a treatment delay time of more than six weeks affected survival at the five-year mark. Culver also found that 90 percent of women treated within two weeks of their diagnosis were alive five years later.

For the study, researchers evaluated the records of nearly 9,000 breast cancer patients between ages 15 and 39 in the California Cancer Registry database. Scientists discovered that Hispanic and black women were more likely than white women to have treatment delays. In addition, low-income women and women with public or no insurance were also more likely than women with private insurance to have treatment delays. “A delay in treatment does influence the outcome, which is survival,” Anton-Culver said.

A related study found that women on Medicaid had larger breast tumors when they were diagnosed compared with women who had private insurance. Researchers from the University of Toledo Medical Center in Ohio evaluated more than 1,500 women diagnosed with stage 1 through stage 3 invasive breast cancer. Of the patients on Medicaid, 60 percent were more likely to get a mastectomy—the surgical removal of all or part of the breast. Researchers suggested that early detection efforts could decrease the need for this surgery.

In general, treatment delays—no matter what the reason—can result in larger tumors at diagnosis and reduced survival rates for both low- and high-income women with breast cancer. “What we are saying in this paper is that you can’t say, ‘OK, I have breast cancer but I have to do A, B and C first, then I will pay attention to that,’” Anton-Culver said.

Reducing disparities will not be an easy task, researchers said, because solutions must take into account a host of variables, such as education levels, language barriers and cultural differences.

Studies have also found a link between breast cancer and heart failure. Click here for more information.