Researchers Study Genetics, Other Factors To Determine Why Black Women Have Higher Rates of Aggressive Breast Cancer
Recent findings that indicate young black women are more likely than white women to develop an aggressive form of breast cancer that is not responsive to many cancer treatments have "prompted a flurry of research," the Washington Post reports. Historically, researchers have attributed studies showing that black women are more likely than whites to die of breast cancer to inequalities in health care, but recent research has shown that even when access to care and treatment is equal, black women still are more likely than others to die of the disease.
A study released last year found that black women are more than twice as likely as white women or postmenopausal black women to develop a more aggressive variant form of breast cancer, called "triple-negative," with genetic traits that make it difficult to treat. The finding has prompted researchers to begin a study of black women in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay areas, as well as those from parts of West Africa, where African women also have high incidences of the triple-negative breast cancer tumors. "This is the first time there's been an attempt to link a U.S. health disparity to an ancestral African population," Fatima Jackson, a University of Maryland medical anthropologist, said.
Some researchers "fear that the focus on biology is distracting from the more critical problem of eliminating racial disparities in care and that it is reinforcing old prejudices about biological differences among races," the Post reports. Other researchers are investigating whether breast-feeding patterns and environmental factors contribute to higher rates of the cancer in black women. "We want to go beyond triple-negative," Kathy Albain of Loyola University said, adding, "Triple-negative is not the whole story. Our hypothesis is there must be molecular, biological, pharmacogenetic and hormonal aspects involved."
Meanwhile, researchers are "urgently trying to develop new therapies" to treat the triple-negative tumors, as the "realization that black women develop triple-negative cancer more frequently suggests that current strategies to fight breast cancer are inadequate," according to the Post (Stein, Washington Post, 6/23).