Posted on July 14, 2016

Why Do More Black Women Die of Breast Cancer? A Study Aims to Find Out

Daniel Victor, New York Times, July 7, 2016

Black women are at a greater risk of dying of breast cancer and of suffering from aggressive subtypes of the disease. Recent advances in survival rates among women of other races haven’t applied to them, and scientists aim to better understand why through a large study.

A $12 million grant will finance a study of more than 20,000 black women with breast cancer, comparing them with thousands of black women who do not have the disease and white women who do. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, the consortium will investigate whether genetic and biological factors, not just lifestyle factors, influence the racial disparities.


Though breast cancer is more deadly for black women, until recently it had been less common. But in October, the rate of breast cancer among black women matched that of white women for the first time.


It will be key to understanding why black women are more likely to die of the disease. Though the role of genetics has largely been a mystery, scientists have offered a wide variety of environmental factors that could contribute to mortality rates, including obesity and access to care.

“For a very long time, that’s how people have explained it,” Dr. Olopade said. “But some of the work we have done has suggested it’s much more complex than that. There might be some genetic risk factors that are actually contributing to the fact that black women tend to get more aggressive breast cancers.”

Scientists cannot assume that risk factors apply equally to black, Asian and white women who do not have the same genetic background, she said. {snip}