Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Focus on African American Women

Oct 17, 2011, 6:30 PM, Posted by

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., and Boston University have received close to $20 million in funding from the National Cancer Institute to conduct a critical five-year study of breast cancer among younger African American women. African American women under age 45 have a five-year relative survival rate of 76 percent compared to young white women, who have an 88 percent survival rate, based on 2007 data.

Data from UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center's Carolina Breast Cancer Study shows that African American women under the age of 45 are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive types of breast cancer than are women of European ancestry—a group for which research and public education has increased in the last 10 years. (See a related interview with Rochelle Shoretz about supporting young Jewish women with breast cancer, and efforts to make materials more culturally appropriate for different groups).

"This project will collect data on more than 5,000 African American women, and as such, will be the largest study of its type," says Robert Millikan, PhD, who is with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and has directed the Carolina Breast Cancer Study for more than 10 years.

"Our aim is to explore the potential biologic, environmental and epidemiologic causes of this difference in cancer incidence,” says Millikan. “Our previous studies and those of our colleagues have suggested hypotheses that we will be investigating with this larger group of patients."

In an interview with, Millikan said these hypotheses include obesity in this population as well as higher rates of stress.

Issues that will be addressed under the grant include:

  • Genetic susceptibility
  • Reproductive history
  • Lactation and hormonal factors
  • Body size and adult physical activity
  • Gene/environment interactions
  • Other risk factors in relation to breast cancer subtypes

>>Read more on health disparities.

>>Weigh In: Has your community developed targeted approaches for reaching African American women about breast cancer?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.