As part of a $12 million grant, the National Institutes of Health, funded by the National Cancer Institute, will study genetic and biological factors contributing to breast cancer in black women, according to an NIH news release published July 6.
According to the release, breast cancer survival rates have improved over several decades. “However, these improvements have not been shared equally; black women are more likely to die of their disease,” the release stated. “Black women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with aggressive subtypes of breast cancer.”
Although the reasons for the disparities are unclear, according to the release, studies suggest that environmental, genetic and societal factors (such as access to healthcare) play a part.
The study includes looking at the genomes of 20,000 black women with breast cancer and comparing those findings with 20,000 black women who don’t have breast cancer. “The project will investigate inherited genetic variations that are associated with breast cancer risk in black women compared to white women,” the release stated. “In addition, researchers will examine gene expression in breast cancer tumor samples to investigate the genetic pathways that are involved in tumor development.”
According to the Susan G. Komen website, in the past, African-American women have been less likely than white women to get regular mammograms. “These lower screening rates may have increased the chances of African-American women being diagnosed with more advanced breast cancers,” according to the website. “This may be one possible reason for the difference in survival rates.”
However, African-American women and white women currently have similar mammography rates, according to the website, which also stated that in 2013, 66% of African-American women ages 40 and older and 66% of white women ages 40 and older had a mammogram in the past two years. Access to follow-up care after an abnormal mammogram may explain part of the survival gap between African-American and white women, according to the website. “Some, but not all, findings have shown that African-American women may have more delays in follow-up after an abnormal mammogram than white women. These delays in follow-up may play a role in the lower survival rates among African-American women.”
According to the Black Women’s Health Imperative website, “Although the overall lifetime risk of breast cancer is lower for black women compared with white women, the death rates are higher.” The site also states that the five-year survival rate for black women is 77%, compared to 90% for white women.
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