When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, several factors can impact how they're treated.
In a large, local study researchers with Kaiser Permanente took a closer look at how a woman's ethnicity may play a role in her treatment.
Breast cancer doesn't run in Vita Willett's family so feeling a lump didn't alarm her.
"I was in denial. I said it's nothing. It's just gonna be another cyst," Willett said, "Unfortunately, I started having burning under my arm and that was very scary."
The diagnosis was triple negative breast cancer. A very aggressive form of cancer and difficult to treat.
"I just did what I had to do," said Willett.
She underwent a double mastectomy. And three years after reconstructive surgery, the cancer returned on the same side in the chest wall.
Willet said, "It's the kind of thing that I just had to say I am fighting this no matter what."
Kaiser Permanente researchers followed 6,000 women like Willett.
The study authored by Reina Haque looked closely at breast-cancer patients from all different ethnic backgrounds.
"And our results have included the broad spectrum of Asian communities as well as Hispanics."
Unlike other studies that have revealed poorer outcomes in women of color without insurance, all the patients in Haque's study were on equal footing since they all had access to healthcare.
Haque said, "We were able to identify a predictor of recurrence versus just overall survival."
She and her colleagues found when a woman was diagnosed and the aggressiveness of her tumor were more important in determining outcomes than race or ethnicity.
The study also confirms that getting adequate, timely and appropriate care increases survival regardless of race and ethnicity.
"Asian women or Hispanic women should be aggressively treated with chemotherapy and endocrine therapy as appropriate because those are the most important factors that relate to cancer progression," Haque said.
Willett has been cancer-free for four years. She said a positive attitude helped her get through all her treatments, but studies like this give her reassurance.
"The research is so important so that people can get the best care possible," she said.
Study examines how ethnicity affects breast-cancer treatment
CIRCLE OF HEALTH