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Aggressive Breast Cancer Found More Often in Black Women

A pair of studies has discovered a connection between younger black women and a more aggressive form of breast cancer. The disease is affecting black women in both Africa and the United States.

Young black women have a much greater risk of contacting a more aggressive form of breast cancer according to a recent study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Results echo the findings of a study done last year on African women. Both studies found that young black women are more likely to obtain a more aggressive and lethal form of breast cancer than white women.

The comparison in breast cancer cases between women in Nigeria and Senegal and women in Canada was the basis of the study released last year by University of Chicago researchers.

Women in the African countries were more likely to develop breast cancer at an earlier age and develop tumors from the more lethal basal-like cells.

Dr. Lisa Carey is the author of a study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that focused on African-American women. "Of pre-menopausal African-American woman who develop breast cancer fully, 39 percent of them are this basal-like form, a more aggressive form of breast cancer, compared to only 15 percent in all the other groups," she said.

The study monitored nearly 500 breast cancer cases. Lorie Williams was scared when she learned she had the basal type of breast cancer. "I had a feeling that I was going to die,” she said. “That's kind of what it felt like; that it was a death sentence for me."

Williams underwent treatment and doctors say she is currently cancer-free.

Still, African-American women in the United States under the age of 50 have almost double the mortality rate from breast cancer as white women. Doctors are not yet sure why black women face a greater risk to the more aggressive form of breast cancer. Carey said, "Now that we know it does happen, the hope is that this kind of knowledge will let us then improve screening or prevention and ultimately develop targeted treatments."

Doctors also stress the importance of early screenings in fighting breast cancer.

Williams agrees. “Do your self-breast-exam, don't be afraid to do it on your own,” she said. “Don't be afraid to ask questions, don't be afraid to be proactive about your own health care."

Doctors are currently developing new drugs to test against the basal type of breast cancer.