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Black Women Breast Cancer Risk May Be Higher Due To Gene Flaws

I shared on this blog a while by my own breast cancer scare when my OB/GYN felt a lump in my breast during my annual exam.  Fortunately for me, the lump turned out to be scar tissue from breast reduction surgery.  But the truth of the matter is that black women have higher rates of breast cancer at young ages – and a worse chance of survival.  This has been attributed to lifestyle choices and lack of medical care, but a recent study discovered that genetics may play a role.

Gene flaws that raise the risk of breast cancer are surprisingly common in black women with the disease, according to the first comprehensive testing. The study found that one-fifth of the black women who particpated in the study have BRCA mutations, a problem usually associated with women of Eastern European Jewish descent but recently highlighted by the plight of Angelina Jolie.  This inherited mutation drastically raises our risk for breast and ovarian cancer.  Doctors say these patients should be offered genetic counseling and may want to consider more frequent screening and prevention options, which can range from hormone-blocking pills to breast removal, as Jolie chose to do.

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“We were surprised at our results,” said the study leader, Dr. Jane Churpek, a cancer specialist at the University of Chicago. Too few black women have been included in genetic studies in the past and most have not looked for mutations to the degree this one did, “so we just don’t have a good sense” of how much risk there is, she said.  Children of someone with a BRCA mutation have a 50 percent chance of inheriting it.

The study involved 249 black breast cancer patients from Chicago area hospitals. Many had breast cancer at a young age, and half had a family history of the disease.  They were given complete gene sequencing for all 18 known breast cancer risk genes rather than the usual tests that just look for a few specific mutations in BRCA genes.  Gene flaws were found in 56, or 22 percent, of study participants; 46 of them involved BRCA1 or BRCA2 and the rest were less commonly mutated genes.

Harmful mutations were found in 30 percent of black women with “triple-negative breast cancer” – tumors whose growth is not fueled by estrogen, progesterone or the gene that the drug Herceptin targets. Doctors have long known that these harder-to-treat cases are more common in black women.  Still, “it has always stumped us” to see black families with lots of breast cancer but no mutations that can be found in ordinary testing for BRCA genes, she said.

M. Spencer Green / AP / Breast cancer survivor Alicia Cook holds photos of family members who have also been afflicted by breast cancer, outside her home in Chicago.

M. Spencer Green / AP /
Breast cancer survivor Alicia Cook holds photos of family members who have also been afflicted by breast cancer, outside her home in Chicago.

That was the situation for Alicia Cook, 44, a Chicago woman whose grandmother died of breast cancer, mother died of ovarian cancer and two sisters have had breast cancer. When she was first diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 10 years ago, a test for BRCA mutations was negative.  Doctors said, “I’m sure there’s something going on genetically” but they didn’t have the tools to find it, Cook said.  Last year, she had a recurrence and a sister who was diagnosed with the disease learned she carried a BRCA1 mutation. Cook was retested for the same mutation and found to have it. Now she is telling her relatives in hopes that more of them will seek genetic counseling and be aware of their risk.

I encourage you to talk to your doctor about genetic testing in addition to breast self-exams and mammograms, especially if breast cancer is in your family’s medical history.  Knowledge is power!

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About Naturally Glam

Jonna "Naturally Glam" is a 30-something naturalista from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. As she approached 30, she embarked on a few lifestyle journeys – natural hair, health, fashion and beauty. None of which she'd spent any significant amount of time and energy on before. But as she got older and wiser, she felt this was the time to “do her thing” and do it well – but on a budget. Jonna launched her company, Naturally Glam LLC,http://naturally-glam.com, in 2012 to share her natural hair journey, healthy lifestyle journey, “chic for cheap” fashion & beauty tips, and as a means to bring events to her local area that encompassed all of these things.
  • queenbee9

    I am so sick and tired of so called “stats” that try to portray blacks as so pathetic we have the highest risks for almost everything bad or unhealthy and the lowest projection for anything successful. Or do we? Statistics are funny things, they can be skewed to underline a point or to make one group look really pitiful or unhealthy or criminal while a larger group does not look as bad due to their dominant numbers and information can be presented in a way to say what the statistician wants to say: Ie., blacks are weaker, stupider, more inclined to crime, not as successful,, more prone to this disease or that one.
    the fact is we have no idea what we are prone to. Most doctors lead patients by the nose and the patient hangs onto the holy grail of medicine often seeing the dr as an emissary from heaven rather than what they really are–business people who make money only if we are sick and the sicker we are the more they make. the kicker? we have to rely on them often to tell us how sick we are and to “read the tea leaves or bones” by reading the Cat scans and MRIS, lab results and ultrasounds–but not to worry, if we want a second opinion drs can get us that too through a referral.
    Here is what people do not know about most drs. :
    1. they make less than most dentists
    2. Besides very expensive malpractice insurance, drs must pay fees to hospitals in order to have practicing rights at each hospital–this can cost hundreds of thousands each year–think of it as paying DUES
    3. Drs. also have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in due to the group or practice they belong to OR they have to bring in business. to do this, they have to talk so many people into going into the hospital or having tests and labwork or needing surgery–the more people and services they can refer the less they have to pay their fees out of their own pockets.
    Beware anyone who stands to gain if only they can produce more sick people. Not to say breast cancer or any cancer is not real–it is–sometimes, but I am willing to bet sometimes drs use the cancer scare to get people to have tests or operations that they do not need–especially targeted are people with solid insurance. I happen to know some of the tests and procedures are BOGUS through personal experience and some drs are corrupt.
    My advice is the next time your trusted dr tells you you have a disease or need an operation get a second opinion, but don’t go through your own dr–they might be in cahoots with the next dr they send you to. I always go out of state and I do not tell dr number 2 what dr number one thinks or found. You’d be amazed how often the lab results and tests in the case of dr number 2 DO NOT MATCH the findings of dr number 1 and you might also be amazed at how fast dr number 1 will back pedal off a diagnosis or recommended surgery when they know you have data to the contrary elsewhere.
    In the event that the findings of both support the diagnosis, I am not above taking my actual care to a third dr. WHY? because when drs come to understand that they will not gain an advantage or more money from finding things wrong with a patient, they often and mysteriously begin to find a lot less wrong, that why. and now my rant is done.

    • Ismur

      You state several meaningful and accurate perceptions. I might add that genes are not some static entity, predetermining your destiny, as the medical profession’s theories on breast cancer postulate. Black people are more commonly part of a low socioeconomic sector. Studies have shown that high income inequality within a country means a greater frequency of health issues. The quality of the genes is significantly influenced by the quality of your lifestyle. More breast cancer among black women is likely more of an economic-sociological problem than blaming “genes” (but “blaming genes” is a strategy that serves neatly the medical establishement as, supposedly, only they can effectively address that “fate”). But a corporate nation has a strong tendency to hide the harm it inflicts upon a populace. Kind of like how the medical industry has been obfuscating the real cause of breast cancer: medical x-rays (read the e-book “The Mammogram Myth: The Independent Investigation Of Mammography The Medical Profession Doesn’t Want You To Know About” by Rolf Hefti).

      • queenbee9

        Amen and amen. I believe it was the Surgeon General’s office which reported that over 65% of all mammograms have been found to be ineffective in detecting cancer but here is something that just makes my blood boil:
        Since 1997, the procedure followed by my dr for years was as follows:
        1. Order a yearly mammogram. I have large breast and they are fibrocystic
        2. After ordering the first mammogram a second one is ordered because the first cannot see anything
        3. After the second, they tell me that they need to proceed to an ultrasound
        4. During the ultrasound, they tell me that they need to puncture a cyst and take out fluid to look for abnormalities
        5. After they drain a cyst they then take it to a lab which tells them it is inconclusive
        6. They then order 2 or more new ultrasounds
        7. finally, years later they suggest an MRI OR I can undergo a biopsy which strangely turns into a lumpectomy all this because I stopped letting them do excess mammograms
        Now all that in one year. Then again in 1998 and 1999, and 2000 but in 2001 they started having problems–I would not allow all the mammograms. WHY? Because the same damn condition that I had in 1997 I still had so why do the mammograms when you already know that they are inconclusive, I wanted to go straight to the ultrasound–they wanted mammograms for a baseline–what kind of baseline is there if you can’t discern anything?
        It is not like my fibrocystic breasts were cured, right? so why not start with an ultrasound? I will tell you why–because that is a loss of over 2400.00 when you dismiss or bypass 2 mammograms, then my insurance company got involved and stated only one mammogram allowed per year unless cancer was indicated–and that is how I became a candidate for scare tactics. For years they told me that I might have breast cancer and to let them do an MRI and a surgery. so I let them proceed only not the dr who wanted to do it and not in the state that dr was in–I took it on the road. They wanted to give me a referral and I said no, I did not need a referral. The new place wanted to do mammograms and ultrasounds–I told them work with what you got or get nothing.
        Surprise, surprise all of a sudden the old mammograms from one state was good enough for the people who want to do the surgery in another state–after the surgery (which showed benign cystic breasts) the surgeon could not explain why she took out one golf ball sized cyst but left another larger one–she said she could always do another surgery.
        LOL I asked her :”You think so” ? She then tried to get me to schedule a mammogram–I laughed and told her that I had been doing that round robin for years and that I would let her know when I was ready to schedule one–I then went back to the first doctor==who scheduled a mammogram then told me the results were inconclusive–by now, I have had it. I had been playing this game with all the mammograms and inconclusiveness for over a decade–” I told the dr’s office that then, we would all have to live with the mystery of my titties.
        Now, my new doctor in this state has tried to get me a colonoscopy, a mammogram and his latest–testing me for uterine cancer although my pap was normal–I said no to all, so he sent me a form with a referral for a mammogram (easy money) and asked me to present it to whatever dr I go to–I threw it in the trash–if/when I decide to ever get a mammogram I don’t need him piggybacking for cash–on top of that, I already know the drill–if I go for a mammogram it will be inconclusive, then they will get one or two more then one or two ultrasounds then an iffy biopsy–been there, done that–If I am going to be “sick” or die–I would like it to be on my own terms and not because I was some kind of cash cow or nest egg for some doctor —All this on the heels of my young cousin dying in hospital from a staph infection all brought on by them cleaning up a hernia scar he had (and letting him fester with the infection for 2 weeks then saying he was all better then 30 min later he coded and died) NO thank you–people need to get wise–ESPECIALLY black people.