Breast Cancer Gene Study May Bring Good News for Black Women

Researchers hope that this could mean better survival rates and treatment.

Posted: 10/01/2012 02:22 PM EDT

As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins today, a new study brings hope, especially for African-American women. Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis performed genetic analysis of breast cancer and were able to identify four different classes. They hope that this discovery will allow them to create better breast cancer treatments, especially for women who have been diagnosed with basal-like breast tumors, which are incredibly aggressive and harder to treat.

Basal-like breast tumors account for only 10 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses; yet African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with them at a younger age. To make matters worse, women diagnosed with these tumors have a higher risk of dying.

And so for this particular study researchers found that basal-like breast tumor’s DNA is somewhat similar to ovarian cancer tumors and therefore they believe that they can treat basal-like breast tumors the same way they treat ovarian cancer.

The Huffington Post wrote:

That means some patients may be able to forgo the less effective, side-effect laden anthracycline-based chemotherapy treatment typically used to treat basal-like tumors, treatments that have been known to cause heart problems and lead to the development of other cancers, including leukemia.

Catering treatment for basal-like tumors is incredibly important, says a Washington University press release:

Basal-like breast tumors often are treated like many other breast cancers, using anthracycline-based chemotherapy. But another [Washington University study] recently showed that women with basal-like tumors don’t benefit from these drugs, which also have severe side effects. At the very least….the new data indicates that clinical trials should be designed to avoid the use of these drugs in basal-like tumors.

Better treatment can be the difference between life and death, and that’s crucial for Black women. Each year, more than 1,700 black women each year succumb to the disease — that’s almost two times higher than white women. Other facts to keep in mind: We are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age with breast cancer and at a later stage. Not to mention, we are more likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive forms of cancer, which do not respond as well to treatment.

Why this is the case remains a mystery to researchers, but more research like this study may help find some of those answers.

Learn more about breast cancer and African-American women here.

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