The statistics about breast cancer in the United States are stark. According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer; 246,660 new cases will be diagnosed this year alone. It is also the second leading case of cancer death among women, with a one in 36 chance of death.1
White women have a higher incidence of breast cancer (127.8 cases per 100,000 women) than do African-American women (118.3 per 100,000); however, more African-American women die from the disease (33.8 per 100,000), compared with white women (25.5 per 100,000).2 So what are the genetic and biological factors that contribute to breast cancer risk among African-American women? How do they differ from other women from other ethnicities? Hopefully, the results of new study, launched on July 6, 2016, will answer these questions.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced the launch of the collaborative research project that will investigate these genetic and biological factors.3 The researchers will have access to biospecimens, data, and resources from 18 earlier studies, which will result in a study population of 20,000 African American women with breast cancer. The genomes of these women will be compared with 20,000 African-American women who do not have breast cancer, as well as to white women who do have the disease. The researchers are also interested in learning about gene expression in breast cancer tumor samples and investigating the genetic pathways that are involved in tumor development.
Investigators participating in the program are from the African-American Breast Cancer Consortium, the African-American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk (AMBER) Consortium, and the NCI Cohort Consortium.
Earlier studies have found severable differing risk factors, both environmental/lifestyle and genetics. Incidence related to age also differs between the two groups. While the incidence of breast cancer increases with age overall, African-American women who are younger than 45 years have a greater incidence of breast cancer than white women in this age group. Unfortunately, the many unknowns have made it even more difficult for physicians to accurately predict breast cancer risk for African-American women.
“This effort is about making sure that all Americans – no matter their background – reap the same benefits from the promising advances of precision medicine. The exciting new approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment ring hollow unless we can effectively narrow the gap of cancer disparities, and this new research initiative will help us do that,” said Douglas R. Lowy, MD, in a news release. “I’m hopeful about where this new research can take us, not only in addressing the unique breast cancer profiles of African-American women, but also in learning more about the origin of cancer disparities.” Lowy is the acting director of NCI.3
Robert Croyle, PhD, agrees with Lowy: “A better understanding of the genetic contributions to differences in breast cancer diagnoses and outcomes among African-Americans may lead to better treatments and better approaches to cancer prevention.” Croyle is the director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS). “This $12 million grant — in combination with previous investments — should help advance our understanding of the social and biological causes that lead to disparities in cancer among underserved populations.”
- American Cancer Society. What are the key statistics about breast cancer? 2016 May 4.
- National Cancer Institute. Cancer Health Disparities.
- National Institutes of Health. NIH launches largest-ever study of breast cancer genetics in black women. 2016 Jul 6.