Monday, January 28, 2008

Black women get breast cancer two decades earlier than white women

Women's Health News

Published: Thursday, 17-Jan-2008

Black British women in Hackney, East London, are diagnosed with breast
cancer 21 years younger than white British women, according to a
Cancer Research UK study published online in the British Journal of

In the first UK study to look at the patterns of breast cancer in
black British women, the researchers studied 102 black women and 191
white women diagnosed with breast cancer at Homerton University
Hospital in Hackney, East London, between 1994 and 2005. They found
the black patients were diagnosed with breast cancer at an average age
of 46 while the white patients were diagnosed at an average age of 67.

Researchers based at the Institute of Cancer and Cancer Research UK
clinical centre at Barts and the London School of Medicine and
Dentistry also found that survival was poorer among black women with
smaller tumours. In addition, their initial findings suggest that
tumours in the younger black patients were more likely to be
aggressive, and a higher proportion of tumours were basal-like â?"
meaning they were less likely to respond to newer types of targeted
breast cancer treatments like Herceptin.

If these results are confirmed in larger studies, the findings could
have implications for diagnosis, screening and treatment of black
British breast cancer patients in the future.

Study author Dr Rebecca Bowen, said: "Twenty five per cent of all
breast cancer cases diagnosed in London during the period studied were
in women aged 45 or younger â?" but this figure rose to 45 per cent
among the black population in Hackney. We think the differences in the
way tumours of black and white women behave can be put down to the
biological differences between the two ethnic groups. We're now trying
to find out why the tumours are so different so that we can develop
new treatments to target the aggressive forms of breast cancer seen in
young black women."

Until recently, UK cancer registries have not collected ethnicity data
routinely, but incidence of breast cancer among black British women is
thought to be lower than the white population. American research has
suggested that African-American women get breast cancer at a younger
age and at a more advanced stage â?" but this is the first UK study to
draw these conclusions.

Dr Bowen added: "We've just received funding for the next stage of our
research which will allow us to determine the type of cancers these
women are getting at this young age. It's important that we use the
information learnt from this study to raise awareness of breast cancer
risk factors and the importance of early detection among the black

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information,
said: "This is very interesting research. The fact that black women
are being diagnosed with breast cancer at a much younger age than
white women is clearly worrying. If these results are confirmed in
follow-up studies, it might be appropriate to alter screening services
offered to black women to better reflect the age at which they are
diagnosed with breast cancer â?" but at the moment itâ?™s too early to
suggest any changes to the screening programme because the study was
so small.

"These findings highlight the need for all women to be breast aware,
report any changes to the doctor promptly and attend screening
appointments when invited, as early detection is important for
successful treatment."
Eve Silver
Clear Research