African-American women more likely to be diagnosed with higher-risk breast cancer

African-American women frequently present with biologically less favorable subtypes of breast cancer, according to a research study done with genomic testing. This study was presented at the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, which was held in early June in Chicago, Illinois.

Researchers at the MedStar Hospital Center's Washington Cancer Institute in Washington, DC, analyzed the biology of breast cancer in 100 African-American women, using a method of genomic profiling. These genomic tests look at the expression of genes associated with the risk of recurrence in the population and further characterizes the biology of the tumor. The 70-gene MammaPrint test was used to determine the likelihood of a cancer recurrence. Out of the 100 patients, 66 women in the study were found to be high risk, meaning that their tumors had a higher risk of recurrence.

A companion BluePrint test was used to define the specific molecular subtype of each cancer. When classified by both genomic tests, African-American women with stage I to III breast cancer often presented with gene expression subtypes that were less favorable. 

"It's important that research continues to address these issues comprehensively, from the biology of the disease to the development of optimal treatment and access to healthcare," said co-author and presenter Raquel Nunes, MD, a medical oncologist at the Washington Cancer Institute. "This work is particularly meaningful for us because it complements our interest in health disparities and highlights the enthusiastic participation of African-Americans in breast cancer research."

Unlike genetic tests such as those for BRCA genes (which are inherited and look at overall susceptibility for developing breast cancer), genomic tests look at the genes inside a breast cancer cell and how strongly they are expressed. The findings support prior research that has looked at the biologic characteristics of breast cancer in African-American women, but this specific methodology reported here was used for the first time in this population.

Cancer specialists will continue to follow the patients in the research study over the next five years to evaluate their survival with treatment, according to their gene profile.

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