Why Black Women Have Higher Rates Of Aggressive Breast Cancer?

Armen Hareyan's picture

Recent findings that indicate young black women are more likely thanwhite women to develop an aggressive form of breast cancer that is notresponsive to many cancer treatments have "prompted a flurry ofresearch," the Washington Post reports.Historically, researchers have attributed studies showing that blackwomen are more likely than whites to die of breast cancer toinequalities in health care, but recent research has shown that evenwhen access to care and treatment is equal, black women still are morelikely than others to die of the disease.


A studyreleased last year found that black women are more than twice as likelyas white women or postmenopausal black women to develop a moreaggressive variant form of breast cancer, called "triple-negative,"with genetic traits that make it difficult to treat. The finding hasprompted researchers to begin a study of black women in the Washington,D.C., Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay areas, as well as those fromparts of West Africa, where African women also have high incidences ofthe triple-negative breast cancer tumors. "This is the first timethere's been an attempt to link a U.S. health disparity to an ancestralAfrican population," Fatima Jackson, a University of Maryland medical anthropologist, said.

Someresearchers "fear that the focus on biology is distracting from themore critical problem of eliminating racial disparities in care andthat it is reinforcing old prejudices about biological differencesamong races," the Post reports. Other researchers areinvestigating whether breast-feeding patterns and environmental factorscontribute to higher rates of the cancer in black women. "We want to gobeyond triple-negative," Kathy Albain of Loyola Universitysaid, adding, "Triple-negative is not the whole story. Our hypothesisis there must be molecular, biological, pharmacogenetic and hormonalaspects involved."

Meanwhile, researchers are "urgently tryingto develop new therapies" to treat the triple-negative tumors, as the"realization that black women develop triple-negative cancer morefrequently suggests that current strategies to fight breast cancer areinadequate," according to the Post (Stein, Washington Post, 6/23).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser WeeklyHealth Disparities Report,search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.