Breast Cancers in African American Women Biologically Different

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A study adds to evidence that strongly suggests that breast cancers in African American women are biologically different than breast cancers in white women. This means that the genes in the cancer are different. These differences may explain why African American women are hit harder by the disease. Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in African American women should be tailored to better address these differences.

In the past, researchers thought that the differences between white and African American women in the likelihood of surviving after a breast cancer diagnosis were because of differences in socioeconomic factors—income, access to healthcare, etc. While these factors DO affect the health of African American women with breast cancer, this study suggests that biological differences in the cancers also play a role.

The African American women in this study were already enrolled in clinical trials. Clinical trials must be carefully controlled to ensure that everyone in the trial gets the same care. So access and timeliness of care should be the same for all women in the trials. Still, despite receiving the same care as white and Hispanic women, the African American women in the trials usually had more aggressive breast cancers and poorer survival rates.

One breast cancer type that was diagnosed more frequently in African American women was what's called "triple negative" breast cancer. These breast cancers are hormone-receptor-negative (no estrogen and no progesterone receptors) and HER2-negative. Breast cancers that are hormone-receptor-negative and HER2-negative are typically more aggressive and harder to treat.

If you're an African American woman recently diagnosed or being treated for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about this study. Ask your doctor about the personality of the breast cancer and about the treatment options that are the best for YOU and your unique situation.

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