Government and Regulations

Unraveling the Causes of Breast Cancer Disparities

A collaborative research project examines study data of 20,000 women to understand the genetic and biological factors influencing black women’s breast cancer risk.


Why are black women more likely to develop certain aggressive subtypes of breast cancer than are white women? Also, why are black women more likely to die of breast cancer? The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has launched a collaborative research project to pinpoint genetic factors that underlie these and other disparities.

The Breast Cancer Genetic Study in African-Ancestry Populations is the largest study to date to investigate genetic and biological factors behind black women’s risk of breast cancer. It won’t enroll new patients but instead will bring together researchers and data from a variety of venues, including the African-American Breast Cancer Consortium, the African-American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk Consortium, and the NCI Cohort Consortium. Minority scientists from various institutions are playing an important role in the study, NCI says.

The researchers will share biospecimens, data, and resources of the 20,000 black women involved in 18 previous studies. The genomes of those women will be compared with those of 20,000 black women who do not have breast cancer as well as with white women who have breast cancer. The project will investigate genetic variations associated with breast cancer risk in black women and gene expression in tumor samples to identify genetic pathways.

“This effort is about making sure that all Americans—no matter their background—reap the same benefits from the promising advances of precisions medicine,” said Douglas Lowy, MD, acting director of NCI. “I’m hopeful about where this new research can take us, not only in addressing the unique breast cancer profiles of African American women, but also in learning more about the origin of cancer disparities.”

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