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Jan 09, 2014 08:44 AM EST

White Women at Greater Breast Cancer Risk than Blacks, South Asians: Study

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White women are more likely to develop breast cancer than their black and South Asian counterparts, a new study reported.

According to the study,white women are at an increased risk due to higher rates of heavy drinking, having fewer kids and spending less time breastfeeding. The study was based on an analysis of data from the Million Women Study.

The survey between 1996 and 2001 comprised of a million white women between the ages of 50 and 64, nearly 6,000 south Asian women and approximately 5,000 black women.

The team from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University found that breast cancer occurrence in South Asian and black women was 18 percent and 15 percent respectively.

The researchers said that having more children and breastfeeding for a longer time protects women from breast cancer. The white women had an average of 2.1 children, while the South Asians had 2.7 and the black women 2.9. About 85 percent of south Asian women breast fed their children when compared to 83 percent of black women and 69 percent of white women, Guardian reports.

The survey also revealed that just 23 percent of white women were non-drinkers in comparison to 75 percent of the South Asian women and 38 percent of black women.

"It's important for women of all ethnic groups to understand what are the modifiable risk factors for breast cancer, such as obesity and excessive alcohol consumption, and to take measures to reduce their risk," Toral Gathani, author of the study, from Oxford University, said in a statement.

Since modern women cannot afford to sit at home and breastfeed for more than six months, Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health information, said that they can certainly lower rates of breast cancer by keeping a tab on alcohol consumption, maintaining a normal weight, eating a healthy diet and being active.

"If women notice any changes to their breast such as lumps, any skin or nipple changes, or changes in their size, shape or feel they should tell their doctor straightaway. It's probably not cancer, but if it is, getting it diagnosed as early as possible gives the best chance of survival," Sharp said.

The study has been published in the British Journal of Cancer.

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