But a Georgia State University researcher has found a way to identify these aggressive cancers in black women, which would let their doctors customize their treatment.
Ritu Aneja, associate professor of biology, has been studying a protein called HSET. Earlier studies have linked elevated levels of HSET to the spread of lung cancer to the brain. Others have found that HSET is also abnormally high in a particularly vicious kind of breast cancer, called triple-negative breast cancer, that most commonly occurs in African-American women.
Aneja's federally funded work went a step beyond to see if tests for the protein could help doctors identify aggressive breast cancers in African-American patients. She and her colleagues analyzed breast tumor tissue samples from 149 African-American women and 44 non-Hispanic white women.
She found the samples from African-American women were three times as likely to show high levels of HSET. Her team was also able to link elevated HSET levels to poorer medical outcomes for African American women, but not in white women.
"We were surprised that HSET levels appeared to be a better predictor of cancer outcomes than other routinely used breast cancer predictors," Aneja said. "We are working round the clock to define ways to use this biomarker most effectively and as soon as possible in a clinical setting."
The research was presented at the sixth American Association for Cancer Research Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved, which took place Dec. 6-9.