Best Life: Detecting breast cancer in African American women

Best Life: Breast cancer disparities

NEW YORK, N.Y. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, breast cancer is the most common cancer for Black women in the U.S. They are also 42 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women. New research looks at one possible reason for the disparity.

Josie Barbot never imagined she’d be standing in thigh-high water— learning to fly fish.

“I didn’t even know what it was,” Barbot told Ivanhoe. Nor did she think she’d be any good her first time out, but ...

“I caught two fish…. Oooh, I was fighting with them,” Barbot exclaimed.

But what Josie says she did expect, unfortunately, was a breast cancer diagnosis at some point during her adult life.

“My mom died of breast cancer when she was 46. I was 21,” Barbot recalled.

Melissa Davis, Ph.D., an assistant professor of cell and developmental biology and department of surgery scientific director at the International Center for Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes at Weill Cornell Medicine is an expert in genetics, developmental biology, and cancer disparities.

“Whether or not you get breast cancer isn’t the disparity. The disparity is whether or not you survive it,” Davis explained.

Oncologists have recognized for years that African American breast cancer patients tend to be younger and have more aggressive cancers. Davis and colleagues have identified a set of variants in the gene, DARC/ACKR1 in women of sub-Saharan West African descent. The researchers found when breast cancer patients had a lower expression of the gene— their tumors were more aggressive. Davis says this discovery paves the way for the development of targeted therapies.

“If we can identify what it is that’s driving the proliferation, the aggressiveness, then we can try to block it,” Davis illustrated.

Josie beat back breast cancer twice. First, in 2016, and again in 2018. She’s active in support groups which led her to an outdoor retreat with Casting for Recovery— where women can share their journey.

“They’re not alone out there,” Barbot shared.

Melissa Davis says an aggressive form of cancer, triple-negative breast cancer is highest in African American women, compared to white, Asian and Hispanic women. Triple-negative breast cancer is often early-onset, striking women before menopause. There are some treatments for triple-negative, but Davis says the key is early detection.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer & Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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