NIH to Fund Study of Breast Cancer in Black Women

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), is launching the largest ever study to try to find the underlying causes of breast cancer in black women, and to better understand why they are more likely to die of breast cancer than are white women. A $12 million grant will fund the research into ways genetic factors contribute to breast cancer risk in black women.

Black women are more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages, and they have the lowest survival at each state of diagnosis. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype that is linked to poorer survival.

Death rates among black women have historically been higher than among white women. By 2012, death rates were 42% higher in black women than white women, and that trend is expected to continue. In addition, the rates at which black women are being diagnosed with breast cancer is increasing. For decades, black women had been getting breast cancer at lower rates than white women, but that gap is now closing.

The NCI-funded research will analyze resources from 18 previous studies, which will allow the researchers to compare the genetic material of 20,000 black women with breast cancer to the genetic material of 20,000 black women without breast cancer. The researchers will also compare this genetic material to that of white women with breast cancer.

“A better understanding of the genetic contributions to differences in breast cancer diagnoses and outcomes among African-Americans may lead to better treatments and better approaches to cancer prevention,” said Robert Croyle, PhD, director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS), in a statement. DCCPS is administering the grant.

Previous studies have suggested genetic, socioeconomic, and lifestyle factors may all play a role in disparities among breast cancer incidence and survival.

Staying healthy

You can’t change your genes, but you can make lifestyle changes that can help lower your risk of developing breast cancer, or finding it earlier when it’s easier to treat. The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life. Obesity and excess weight gain increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits and is a good place to start.
  • Getting regular physical activity. Women who do have a 10% to 25% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who get no exercise. Doing even a little physical activity beyond your regular daily routine can have many health benefits.
  • Limiting alcohol. Many studies have confirmed that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women by about 7% to 10% for each drink per day. For women who drink alcohol, the American Cancer Society recommends they limit themselves to no more than 1 drink per day.
  • Getting regular mammograms. Women age 40 and older should talk to their health care provider about when to start regular screening.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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