Benign Breast Disease Increases Risk in Black Women

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Benign breast disease is not cancerous and not life-threatening. Cysts and fatty tumors are examples of benign breast disease. Still, having benign breast disease has been shown to increase a women’s risk of breast cancer in the future.

Most studies on benign breast disease and risk have been done on white women. Researchers wanted to know if the characteristics of benign breast disease that affected risk in white women were the same that affected risk in black women. If the characteristics were similar, it would mean that doctors could use the same tools to estimate risk for both white and black women.

A study has found that the characteristics of benign breast disease that affect breast cancer risk are similar for both white and black women.

The study was published in the December 2012 issue of Cancer Prevention Research. Read the abstract of “Benign Breast Disease and the Risk of Subsequent Breast Cancer in African American Women.”

The researchers reviewed information from about 1,400 black women in Michigan who had breast biopsies with a result of benign breast disease between 1997 and 2000. The women were age 20 to 84. The researchers also tracked which women developed breast cancer later on. About half the women were followed for more than 10 years and the other half were followed for less than 10 years.

The researchers found that:

  • Most of the women (68%) had non-proliferative disease. This means that the cells weren’t growing faster than normal and looked like normal cells.
  • 29% of the women had proliferative disease without atypia. This means the cells were growing faster than normal, but the cells looked normal.
  • 3% of the women had proliferative disease with atypia. This means the cells were growing faster than normal and the cells looked abnormal.

Women diagnosed with proliferative benign breast disease with atypia were 3 times more likely to develop breast cancer later on compared to women diagnosed with non-proliferative disease.

Other studies have shown that white women diagnosed with proliferative benign breast disease with atypia are 4 to 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women not diagnosed with this type of benign breast disease.

If you’ve been diagnosed with benign breast disease, your risk of developing breast cancer is higher than average, no matter your race or ethnicity. How much higher your risk is depends on the characteristics of the benign breast disease, as well as your family history and other health factors. Together, you and your doctor can consider all the aspects of your unique situation and develop a risk reduction plan that makes the most sense for you.

Visit the Breastcancer.org Lower Your Risk section to learn more about your options for keeping your breast cancer risk as low as it can be.

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