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Study To Probe Into Why Black Women Are More Likely To Die Of Breast Cancer

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Studies and statistics have shown that black women have a higher risk of dying from breast cancer and from being diagnosed with aggressive subtypes of the same. While breast cancer survival rates have gone up on a whole, black women have not benefited as much from modern cancer treatments. Scientists intend to find out why in what is set to be the largest study of its kind, reports the New York Times.

The National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, has earmarked a $12 million grant to fund a study of over 20,000 black women with breast cancer, comparing their cases with other black women who are cancer-free and white women who do. The research will focus on investigating if genetic and biological elements play a role in this disparity, alongside lifestyle and other external factors.

Dr. Douglas Lowy, acting director of the NCI, said in a news release,

This effort is about making sure that all Americans — no matter their background — reap the same benefits from the promising advances of precision medicine.

He added, “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.”

While breast cancer is more fatal for black women, it had been less common until last October, when for the first time, the number of breast cancer cases among black women matched that of white women.

The researchers conducting the study aim to gather and investigate data and biospecimens from 18 previous studies in what is the largest sample to date, according to Dr. Funmi Olopade, medicine professor at the University of Chicago who is part of the consortium undertaking the study.

Dr, Olopade mentioned that there have been similar studies for European and Asian women, but this is the first for women of African descent.

This study is expected to be the key to understanding why more black women die of breast cancer. Though genetics has been a mystery in this area, scientists have suggested a range of environmental factors that could add to high mortality rates, including obesity and the lack of access to proper care.

Dr. Olopade said that scientists – and people in general – have viewed this to be the assumption for a long time now, but their work has posited that things may not be as simple. “There might be some genetic risk factors that are actually contributing to the fact that black women tend to get more aggressive breast cancers,” she said.

Scientists are not to assume that risk factors apply equally to all women, when they have different genetic backgrounds, Dr. Olopade added. Over the past years, black women had been getting mammograms and medicines as women of other races have, but they continue to die at a higher rate.

This study just might give some insight as to why, and explain how to identify these factors in patients and ultimately, suggest a targeted treatment plan for black breast cancer patients.



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