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Genetics of Breast Cancer in African Americans to be Focus of New NCI Study

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has launched a study investigating the role of genetics in breast cancer in black women.

The Breast Cancer Genetic Study in African-Ancestry Populations Initiative will be funded by the National Cancer Institute through a $12 million grant to investigators at Vanderbilt University, the University of Southern California, and Boston University. Rather than enrolling new patients, the researchers will work with biospecimens, data, and resources from 18 previous studies conducted through the African-American Breast Cancer Consortium, the African-American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk Consortium, and the NCI Cohort Consortium. As a result, the new initiative will feature a study population of 20,000 black women with cancer. 

The genomes of these 20,000 women will be compared with those of 20,000 black women who do not have breast cancer, as well as with white women with breast cancer. Project investigators will examine inherited genetic variations that are associated with breast cancer risk in black women compared to white women, and analyze gene expression in breast cancer tumor samples to study the genetic pathways that are involved in tumor development.

The NIH noted that while breast cancer survival rates have increased over the past several decades, black women continue to be more likely to die of the disease. Further, black women are also more likely than white women to be diagnosed with the more aggressive triple-negative subtype of breast cancer.

"This effort is about making sure that all Americans — no matter their background — reap the same benefits from the promising advances of precision medicine," NCI Acting Director Douglas Lowy said in a statement. "The exciting new approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment ring hollow unless we can effectively narrow the gap of cancer disparities, and this new research initiative will help us do that."

The $12 million grant, added to previous investments in similar research initiatives, "should help advance our understanding of the social and biological causes that lead to disparities in cancer among underserved populations," added Robert Croyle, director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. "A better understanding of the genetic contributions to differences in breast cancer diagnoses and outcomes among African Americans may lead to better treatments and better approaches to cancer prevention."