Gene Driven Breast Cancer Higher in Black Women

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A study by the University of Chicago discovered that a high percentage of African-American Women with Breast Cancer have an abnormality in at least one of 18 genes previously linked to the disease. This discovery may have finally answered the question why African-Americans are more likely to develop “triple negative” breast cancer, and will also lead to early diagnosis for many.

“Triple Negative” Breast Cancer is a subtype of breast cancer where three receptors known to fuel most breast cancers are absent. The most successful treatments for breast cancer target these receptors and due to the absent of them chemotherapy is the only viable treatment for this form of breast cancer. Also, Triple Negative Breast Cancer is particularly aggressive and has a greater chance of reoccurrence.

The study analyzed 249 patients at the University of Chicago Medicine’s Cancer Risk Clinic. Two-thirds of the patients were referred to the clinic for genetic evaluation because of family history of breast cancer, while forty percent of patients had no family history. However, despite the diversity among the patients, gene mutations developed in both groups. This is the first comprehensive genetic screening among African-American Women for Breast Cancer.

Researchers discovered that twenty-two percent of the women studied had various damaging gene mutations. This is astounding because currently only five to ten percent of breast cancer cases are linked to genetic causes. A majority of the women diagnosed with gene mutations had mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. A woman’s chance for breast cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a gene mutation in the BRCA genes. Other patients had mutations in the CHEK2, PALB2, ATM, and PTEN.
"For many years, we've seen breast cancer take a heavy toll on African-American women, and this study begins to resolve unanswered questions about what's driving these disparities," study lead author Dr. Jane Churpek said in a news release from the University of Chicago, where she is an assistant professor of medicine.

Churpek stated more research with a larger patient pool is needed to confirm the results of the study. However, this study does reveal that genetic screenings along with mammograms are essential for early diagnosis for Breast Cancer.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Komen for the Cure funded the study.

According to “Facts for Life: Racial and Ethic Differences” by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Breast Cancer is the most common cancer for African-American Women. While Breast Cancer has a higher rate of occurrence in White Women than Blacks, it occurs more frequently in African-American Women under the age of 45 than Whites in the same age group. African American Women are also more likely to have larger tumors, late diagnosis and more likely to die from the disease.

Tatiana M. Brown is a native of Washington, D.C. who is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. Follow her @TatianaMBrown or check out her website, or contact her at

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