From the outset, The Love Research Army has aimed to enroll people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. By doing so, we’ve been able to get information about breast cancer research studies to a broad range of women. This, in turn, helps make it more likely that researchers will not be conducting studies that focus only on white women.
African American breast cancer advocates have repeatedly emphasized how important it is for researchers to enroll African American women in their studies. Their call to action has been driven by statistics that show that although black women and white women get breast cancer at about the same rate, black women die from breast cancer at a higher rate than white women. Also, black women are more likely than white women to get triple negative breast cancer, a type of breast cancer that is more likely to return after treatment.
When the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations that increase breast cancer risk were discovered, it was evident that these mutations occurred at a higher rate in women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. It took many more years for researchers and doctors to recognize that Black women with a family history of breast cancer should also be tested for these mutations. More extensive research on African American women also identified specific mutations that were more common among women of African ancestry.
A recent article published on May 19 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute compared the prevalence of 23 genetic mutations known to increase breast cancer risk in 5,054 African American women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer with 4,993 who had not had a breast cancer diagnosis. Mutations were identified in 10.3% of women with estrogen receptor negative (ER-) breast cancer and 5.2% of women with estrogen receptor positive (ER+) tumors. In the group that had not had a breast cancer diagnosis, 2.5% of the women were found to have a mutation.
Currently, not all women with breast cancer are being tested for BRCA and other known mutations that increase breast cancer risk. If you are African American and have been diagnosed with breast cancer, ask about hereditary genetic testing for BRCA and other inherited mutations. If you are an African American man or woman and have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about hereditary genetic testing for BRCA and other inherited mutations. Both women and men can inherit and pass on these mutations; it’s not only African-American women who need to be tested. We all need to bring the Black Lives Matter rallying cry into breast cancer research and treatment. Doing so benefits everyone.