African American Women More Likely to be Diagnosed with Triple-Negative Disease

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A study found that African American women are 3 times more likely than white or Hispanic women to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer is:

  • estrogen-receptor-negative
  • progesterone-receptor-negative
  • HER2-negative

Triple-negative breast cancers are usually more aggressive, harder to treat, and more likely to come back (recur) than cancers that are hormone-receptor-positive or HER2-positive. Triple-negative breast cancers don't usually respond to hormonal therapy medicines or the targeted therapies Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) and Tykerb (chemical name: lapatinib).

Researchers looked at the medical records of 415 women of various races who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and noted certain characteristics of each cancer:

  • 11% to 13% of the breast cancers diagnosed in non-African American women were triple-negative; most of these women were white or Hispanic
  • 30% of the breast cancers diagnosed in African American women were triple-negative

The differences in cancer characteristics weren't due to age or weight, both of which can affect hormone receptor and HER2 status. So, it's likely that genetic factors may be responsible for the higher incidence of triple-negative breast cancer in African American women.

Other research has shown that compared to women of other races, African American women are:

  • less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer
  • more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer, if diagnosed
  • more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer that is aggressive and harder to treat, if diagnosed
  • more likely to have breast cancer come back
  • more likely to die from breast cancer

As this study shows, it's likely that the greater risk of triple-negative breast cancer faced by African American women partially explains why breast cancer in African American women tends to be more advanced, more aggressive and harder to treat.

If you're an African American woman, you can't change your genes. But you can make sure that any breast cancer is diagnosed at its earliest, most treatable stage. If you're older than 40 with an average risk of breast cancer, this means getting a mammogram each year. If you have higher-than-average risk, you may have a more aggressive screening plan that starts at a younger age. Between mammograms, make sure your doctor or other healthcare provider does regular breast exams. You also should consider doing regular breast self-exams. Tell your doctor right away if you find anything you're concerned about. If you need to know how to do a self-exam, ask your doctor.

To learn more, visit the Breastcancer.org Screening and Testing section.

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