African ancestry is linked to high risk breast cancer, according to a study published in Cancer (2010 Jul 13. [Epub ahead of print]).

According to background information provided by the authors, prior studies have shown that while African-American women are less likely than white women to develop breast cancer, those who are diagnosed are usually younger and are more likely to die from the disease.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, involved 581 African-American women and 1,008 white women diagnosed with breast cancer at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, plus 75 African women diagnosed at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Ghana.

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Researchers found that Ghanaian women were diagnosed at a younger age than American women, and with larger tumors and more advanced cancer. Specifically, among those who were diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, 82% were African women, 26% were African-American women, and 16% were white Americans.

“African ancestry might be associated with other links to heredity predisposition for particular patterns of breast cancer. We hope that by studying breast cancer in African and African-American women we can identify biomarkers that might be useful for assessing risk or treating triple-negative breast cancer,” said study author Lisa Newman, MD, MPH, director of the Breast Care Center at the University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of surgery at the U-M Medical School.