Breast Cancer Disparity is Real!


NEW YORK, N.Y. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, breast cancer is the most common cancer for Black women in the U.S. They are also 42 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women. New research looks at one possible reason for the breast cancer disparity.

Josie Barbot never imagined she’d be standing in thigh-high water— learning to fly fish.

“I didn’t even know what it was,” Barbot told Ivanhoe.

Nor did she think she’d be any good her first time out, but …

“I caught two fish…. Oooh, I was fighting with them,” Barbot exclaimed.

But what Josie says she did expect, unfortunately, was a breast cancer diagnosis at some point during her adult life.

“My mom died of breast cancer when she was 46. I was 21,” Barbot recalled.

Melissa Davis, PhD, an assistant professor of cell and developmental biology and department of surgery scientific director at the International Center for Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes at Weill Cornell Medicine is an expert in genetics, developmental biology, and cancer disparities.

(Read Full Interview)

“Whether or not you get breast cancer isn’t the disparity. The disparity is whether or not you survive it,” Davis explained.

Oncologists have recognized for years that African American breast cancer patients tend to be younger and have more aggressive cancers. Davis and colleagues have identified a set of variants in the gene, DARC/ACKR1 in women of sub-Saharan West African descent. The researchers found when breast cancer patients had a lower expression of the gene— their tumors were more aggressive. Davis says this discovery paves the way for the development of targeted therapies.

“If we can identify what it is that’s driving the proliferation, the aggressiveness, then we can try to block it,” Davis illustrated.

Josie beat back breast cancer twice. First, in 2016, and again in 2018. She’s active in support groups which led her to an outdoor retreat with Casting for Recovery— where women can share their journey.

“They’re not alone out there,” Barbot shared.

Melissa Davis says an aggressive form of cancer, triple negative breast cancer is highest in African American women, compared to white, Asian and Hispanic women. Triple negative breast cancer is often early onset, striking women before menopause. There are some treatments for triple negative, but Davis says the key is early detection.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer & Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 279,100 new cases of breast cancer in the United States this year. Breast cancer is when breast tissue cells change and divide uncontrolled, typically resulting in a lump or mass. Most breast cancers begin in the lobules (milk glands) or in the ducts that connect the lobules to the nipple. Screening is vitally important for early detection because breast cancers typically have no symptoms when the tumor is small and that’s when it can be most easily treated. Sometimes breast cancer spreads to underarm lymph nodes and causes a lump or swelling before the original breast tumor can be felt. Less common signs and symptoms include breast pain or heaviness; persistent changes, such as swelling, thickening, or redness of the skin; and nipple changes, such as spontaneous discharge, scaliness, or retraction. Most masses seen on a mammogram and most breast lumps turn out to be benign (not cancerous). When cancer is suspected, tissue is usually obtained from a needle biopsy and less often from a surgical biopsy for microscopic analysis. The type of biopsy is based on multiple factors, including the size and location of the mass, as well as patient factors, preferences and resources.


TRIPLE-NEGATIVE BREAST CANCER:  About 10-20% of breast cancers are triple-negative cancers. It’s a cancer that tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein. Triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormonal therapy medicines or medicines that target HER2 protein receptors. Triple-negative breast cancer is typically treated with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The most common demographic to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer are those younger than 50, African American and Hispanic women and people with the BRCA1 mutation.


WHY THE RACIAL DISPARITY?: Possible reasons that African American women might be more prevelent to triple-negative breast cancer are they tend to have lower rates of breastfeeding and tend to carry excess weight in the abdomen area which may increase the chances of having triple-negative breast cancer. Certain reporoductive and lifestyle factors may protect more against estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers than ER-negative breast cancers.Also, African American women are more likey than white women to have more children, be a younger age at first childbirth and be overweight or obese before menopause.  Melissa Davis, Scientific Director of the International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes is working on a study and suggested “All the shared commonality of being African or having some degree of African ancestry is a major flag and clue that there must be a genetic predisposition. Therefore, if it is a predisposition, then there’s a biological mechanism that’s driving it, right? One of the genes that we’re interested in is a chemical receptor. We think it has something to do with an evolutionary shared genetic ancestry that somehow creates this microenvironment that feeds a triple-negative tumor.”


Melissa Davis, Scientific Director of the International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes)





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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Melissa Davis, PhD, Scientific Director

Read the entire Q&A