Genetic Breast Cancer More Common in African-Americans

Why the BRCA gene matters to Black women.

The BRCA (BReast CAncer Susceptibility Gene) was highlighted in the media when Angelina Jolie revealed she had a prophylactic double mastectomy after testing positive for this gene. Women with the BRCA gene have a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer than the general population. BRCA is responsible for 5-7 percent of breast cancers and about 10 percent of ovarian cancers.

Recently, a study found that African-American women with breast cancer are more likely than women in the general population to have genetic mutations linked to their disease, and some of those mutations extend beyond the common BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

In fact, 1 in 5 black women in this study had a BRCA mutation:

This new data can explain why black women have higher rates of breast cancer at young ages, more aggressive forms of breast cancer, and a worse chance of survival. Studies also reveal that African American women are less likely to be referred for genetic counseling even if they meet the criteria.

To better understand genetic breast cancer and your risk, here are the answers to some of the most asked questions:

Q: What is BRCA?

BRCA 1 and 2 are inherited tumor suppressor genes. Mutations in these genes cause breast and ovarian cancer. BRCA 1 has a lifetime breast cancer risk of 65-74 percent and a lifetime ovarian cancer risk of 39-46 percent. BRCA 2 has a lifetime breast cancer risk of 65-74 percent and a lifetime ovarian cancer risk of 12-20 percent.

Q: Who needs to be tested for BRCA?

All women who meet the following criteria:

—A personal history of breast cancer diagnosed at age 40 years or younger, breast cancer affecting both breasts, or both breast and ovarian cancers.

—A personal history of ovarian cancer and a close relative with ovarian cancer or premenopausal breast cancer or both.

Learn more about BRCA and Black women at BlackDoctor.Org.

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(Photo: JGI/Tom Grill/Blend Images/Corbis)

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