CHICAGO (AP) — New research suggests that bad genes may be responsible for more breast cancer cases in black women than has been previously known. About 1 in 5 African-American women with the disease have an inherited mutation that drastically raises their risk for breast and ovarian cancer, according to a study released Monday.
It may help explain why black women have higher rates of breast cancer at young ages, a more aggressive form of the disease, and worse survival. It doesn’t mean that all black women are at risk or even that all blacks with cancer need genetic counseling or testing, said the study’s leader, Dr. Jane Churpek of the University of Chicago.
Experts offer some advice about what to make of this information:
Q. What are the genes?
A. Mostly BRCA1 and BRCA2. Everyone has two copies of these genes, and a mutation in one can give a woman up to an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer and up to a 54 percent risk for ovarian cancer. Sixteen other genes also can raise risk but are thought to be less common.
Q. Why might blacks have high risk?
A. African-Americans’ genes are more diverse than those of many other racial and ethnic groups. Most of the mutations identified in this study were novel, or unique to each woman, Churpek said. It’s possible that more detailed tests in whites and other groups might find a higher prevalence of mutations than previous studies have found in them, too.