New Study Investigates Why More Black Woman Are Diagnosed With Breast Cancer 

Researchers launched a new study to find the reasoning behind a rise in Black women being diagnosed with breast cancer. 

There have been a number of studies identifying how genetics play a part in someone’s risk of breast cancer, however, primarily in people with European ancestry, leaving questions for Black people. The team from Nature Genetics published a study on the disease in nearly 40,000 people of African descent. 

The study gathered data from 30 different studies that investigated breast cancer in Black people. It was revealed that out of 40,000 people, 18,000 had breast cancer compared to the 22,000 with healthy results.

“Before we started this study in 2016, there were just several thousand cases for Black Americans. It was a very small number,” Wei Zheng, the study’s senior investigator and a cancer epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University.

Through these findings, researchers were able to gather genetic data for specific variations that were closely related to breast cancer, coming up with two key ideas. 

Twelve loci, also known as locations in the genome, showed a significant association with breast cancer. The team went further to identify variants of three genes that seemingly correlate to a risk increase of triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive subtypes. 

Since most people have two copies or alleles of each gene, it’s likely someone could have anywhere between one and six risk-related alleles of these three genes. Study participants who had all six risk-related alleles had approximately double the chance of getting triple-negative breast cancer over those with three. 

The good news is the revelations can help scientists and medical professionals predict who is prone to have this aggressive form of breast cancer, as well as a chance to understand better the biology of triple-negative breast cancer with genes being in the spotlight. “Finally, we have enough data to drill down to estrogen-negative and triple-negative breast cancer, which are twice as common in the African American population as any other population,” fellow study author and cancer researcher at Boston University Julie Palmer said.

The other variation was found after researchers used the same data to build a breast cancer risk prediction model for Black people, taking a look at different genetic variants that can add greater breast cancer risks.

All the variants were bundled into a polygenic risk score, once always performing better for white people than Black people in the past. Polygenic risk scores have an AUC, a measure of the model’s performance, of close to 0.63 for white people in comparison to 0.58 for people with African ancestry. 

Similar studies are being conducted by the American Cancer Society (ACS). Their study, Voices of Black Women, according to ABC News, aims to uncover why Black women have increasingly high rates of cancer. Launched on May 7, the study is being labeled as the largest-ever study of cancer risk and outcomes in Black women in the United States. 

ACS’s senior vice president of population science, Dr. Alpa Patel, says the study will collect data on 100,000 Black women—ranging between ages 25 and 55—over a 30-year time span. Data will be collected from various elements, including medical history, income, environment, and lifestyle. “We will really build a relationship and go on a journey with these women over the next several decades, learning about their lived experiences and collecting information along the way from participants,” Patel said. 

Data already gathered from the ACS found Black women are more likely to die of cancer than other women regardless of the stage of cancer when diagnosed and before they turn 50. 

Black women are twice as likely to die of a breast cancer diagnosis than white women.

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