A study funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, is investigating how genetic and biological factors contribute to the risk of breast cancer among black women. This collaborative research project will identify genetic factors that may underlie breast cancer disparities.
The Breast Cancer Genetic Study in African-Ancestry Populations initiative does not involve new patient enrollment but builds on years of research cooperation among investigators who are part of the African-American Breast Cancer Consortium, the African-American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk (AMBER) Consortium, and the NCI Cohort Consortium. These investigators, who work at many different institutions, will share biospecimens, data, and resources from 18 previous studies, resulting in a study population of 20,000 black women with breast cancer.
“This effort is about making sure that all Americans––no matter their background–– reap the same benefits from the promising advances of precision medicine. The exciting new approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment ring hollow unless we can effectively narrow the gap of cancer disparities, and this new research initiative will help us do that,” said Douglas R. Lowy, MD, acting director of NCI. “I’m hopeful about where this new research can take us, not only in addressing the unique breast cancer profiles of African-American women, but also in learning more about the origin of cancer disparities.”
Survival rates for women with breast cancer have been steadily improving over the past several decades. However, these improvements have not been shared equally; black women are more likely to die of their disease, according to the NCI. Perhaps of most concern is that black women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with aggressive subtypes of breast cancer. The rate of triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype, is twice as high in black women compared with white women.
The exact reasons for these persistent disparities are unclear, although studies suggest that they are the result of a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and societal factors, including access to health care.
As part of the new study, the genomes of 20,000 black women with breast cancer will be compared with those of 20,000 black women who do not have breast cancer. The genomes will also be compared with those of white women who have breast cancer. The project will investigate inherited genetic variations that are associated with breast cancer risk in black women compared with white women. In addition, researchers will examine gene expression in breast cancer tumor samples to investigate the genetic pathways that are involved in tumor development.
Source: NIH; July 6, 2016.