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Finding an Answer for Lower Breast Cancer Risk among Latinas

Research published yesterday in Nature Communications is good news for a subset of Hispanic women. Those who carry a particular SNP have a significantly lower lifetime risk of getting breast cancer.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco and colleagues performed a genome-wide association study on about 3,000 women with breast cancer and 8,000 healthy controls. The team discovered a single nucleotide change that was associated with a dramatic difference in breast cancer risk.

According to the study authors, the approximately 20 percent of the US Latina population who have one copy of the SNP are 40 percent less likely to get breast cancer than the average woman. Those with two copies, only about one percent of US Latinas, have an 80 percent reduction in their risk. The association was also stronger for estrogen receptor-negative cancers, a more serious form of the disease, than other types of breast cancer.

Interestingly, the finding could explain at least some of a longstanding observation — that women of Hispanic origin, especially those with indigenous American ancestry, have a lower overall breast cancer risk than Caucasian or African Americans.

Much research has focused on discovering genetic variants that increase breast cancer risk, but the new data suggest for the first time that protective variants in the Hispanic population could instead be responsible.

"This is a really important study," Marc Hurlbert, executive director of the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade, told The New York Times. "If we can understand how this is protective, it might help us to develop better treatments for those who do get breast cancer."

According to the Latin Times, while the findings of the study are "great news for women of Hispanic origin," it's important to note that breast cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Latinas. "One of the biggest hurdles for Latinas with breast cancer is early detection, as they are more likely than non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed at a later stage," Susmita Baral writes.