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Study Suggests Hormone-Receptor-Negative Breast Cancer Risk Factors for Young Black Women

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An October 2016 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that overall rates of breast cancer in Black and white women are about the same. Still, breast cancer in Black women is typically more aggressive than breast cancer in white women. Compared to white women, breast cancer in Black women tends to be:

  • diagnosed at a younger age
  • more advanced at diagnosis
  • more likely to be fatal at an earlier age

Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which can be harder to treat and more likely to come back (recur).

Triple-negative breast cancer is:

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

Researchers have been trying to figure out why breast cancer is more aggressive in young Black women.

A study suggests that Black women younger than 45 may have a higher risk of hormone-receptor-negative breast cancer if they:

  • had three or more children at a young age
  • never breastfed
  • had a higher waist-to-hip measurement ratio

The study was published online on Oct. 18, 2016 by the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Read the abstract of “Differential patterns of risk factors for early-onset breast cancer by ER status in African American women.”

To do the study, Boston University researchers looked at 18 years of information from 57,708 Black women who were in the Black Women’s Health Study. From 1995 to 2013:

  • 529 invasive breast cancers were diagnosed in women who were younger than 45
  • 1,534 invasive breast cancers were diagnosed in women who were 45 or older

The researchers looked to see if body size, number of children, and other factors were associated with being diagnosed with breast cancer, either hormone-receptor-positive or hormone-receptor-negative, in both younger and older women.

For younger women:

  • having three or more children
  • never breastfeeding
  • having a higher waist-to-hip measurement ratio (which suggests more fat in the abdomen)

were associated with a higher risk of hormone-receptor-negative breast cancer.

These factors were not associated with a higher risk of hormone-receptor-negative breast cancer in older women. These factors also were not associated with a higher risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer in younger or older women.

"Very little is known about how young women can reduce their personal risk of [hormone-receptor]-negative breast cancer," said Dr. Kimberly Bertrand, epidemiologist at Boston University, who led the study. "Most exciting among our findings is that two of the factors we found to be important -- breastfeeding and higher waist-to-hip ratio -- are modifiable, which suggests opportunities for risk reduction or prevention."

Women of all ethnicities can take steps to keep their risk of breast cancer as low as it can be. If you’re a Black woman, you may want to talk to your doctor about your risk of breast cancer, as well as about lifestyle choices you can make to lower that risk, including:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • exercising every day
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • not smoking
  • eating a healthy diet that’s low in processed foods, sugar, and trans fats
  • breastfeeding if you have children and that option is available to you

To learn more about breast cancer risk and other options to keep your risk as low as it can be, visit the Lower Your Risk section.

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