Indian and Pakistani women living in the US are diagnosed with more aggressive forms of breast cancer at a younger age, a new study by the Rutgers School of Public Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey shows.

The study findings, published in the International Journal of Cancer, are based on data from the US National Cancer Institute’s “Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program”. The data were on how many women were diagnosed with breast cancer from 1990-2014.

Additionally, the researchers looked at the characteristics of breast cancer and survival rate reported in 4,900 South Asian women and 482,250 non-Hispanic white women from 2000-2016.

Though the research had specific disease and survival data on fewer than 5,000 Indian-American and Pakistani-American women, it raises a few important questions about access to health, and who takes breast cancer-screening decisions in the family and how.

"Our study indicated that there are important differences in this population that justify further studies to better understand biological, sociocultural, and system level factors such as interactions with the health system, affecting breast cancer screening patterns, diagnosis, risk and survival among South Asian women, given the paucity of literature on this topic," one of the study authors, Elisa V. Bandera, said in a news release.

Some of the potential reasons the researchers outlined for why Indian-American and Pakistani-American women had worse forms of cancer when they were diagnosed may be quite familiar to many of us here: avoiding mammograms and regular check-ups, delay in seeking health care when there is a problem, and lack of family support for regular testing and early treatment.

Additionally, a set of South Asian women living abroad might face hurdles like not knowing the language or not being able to navigate the healthcare system, which could also be deterrents to seeking medical help.

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2020 draws to a close, this study is a reminder that unless we revise outdated sociocultural norms that are preventing women from seeking medical help, no amount of medical advancement will be enough to reduce the incidence and mortality rate of breast cancer in India and among Indians abroad.

As of 2016, more than half a million women in India were living with breast cancer, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990-2016. Writing for The Lancet, the authors noted: “Over the 26-year period, the age-standardised incidence rate of breast cancer in females increased by 39·1%...from 1990 to 2016, with increase observed in every state of the country… Breast cancer was the first or second leading cause of cancer deaths among females in 28 Indian states in 2016.”


  1. World Health Organization, Geneva [Internet]. Breast cancer.
  2. Rutgers University, US, via EurekAlert [Internet]. News release: Indian and Pakistani women diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancer at younger age, 25 October 2020.

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