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Biological Difference In Tumors Likely Cause Of Black Women's Mortality For Breast Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture

Black women are more likely than other women to develop tumors that donot respond to common hormone-based treatments, according to a study tobe presented at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference that begins on Friday, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports (Marchione, AP/Los Angeles Times, 9/5).

The study, led by M. Catherine Lee, a clinical lecturer at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center'sdepartment of surgery, is the largest to indicate a biological factoras the cause of black women's increased mortality from the disease,according to the Newark Star-Ledger. Previous research has attributed fewer mammograms and less aggressive treatment to the racial disparity (Stewart, Newark Star-Ledger, 9/6). Black women are less likely than white women to develop breast cancer but are more likely to die from the disease.

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Forthe study, Lee and colleagues analyzed data on more than 170,000 breastcancer diagnoses from 1998 that were included in the American Collegeof Surgeons' National Cancer Data Base. Ten percent of the cases were among black women.

Researchersfocused on 95,500 women whose cancers were invasive rather thanconfined to a milk duct. They found that roughly 39% of such tumors inblack women were estrogen receptor-negative, or ER-negative, comparedwith 22% of tumors in white women. ER-negative tumors are resistant tocommon hormone-based therapies like tamoxifen and are more difficult totreat, according to the AP/Times (AP/Los Angeles Times,9/5). The high prevalence of ER-negative tumors among black women wasconsistent regardless of the age or stage at which they were diagnosed,the study found (Newark Star-Ledger, 9/6).

Thestudy also found that black women were diagnosed at an average age of57, compared with 62 for white women. Black women's tumors also weremore advanced than white women's, with 29% of black women having stage1 tumors that had not yet spread, compared with 42% of white women.

Leesaid, "Differences in tumor biology have a significant impact onsurvival," adding, "The fact that breast cancers in black women aremore aggressive biologically suggests that we need to focus more of ourresearch energy on developing better treatments targeting ER-negativetumors." She said the "findings also point to a need for improvedcancer education and screening in black women, particularly those inyounger age groups" (Fox, Reuters, 9/5).

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.