According to a recent article published in Breast Cancer Research, researchers have identified a gene that may explain the differences in survival between black women and white women who are treated for breast cancer.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in over 200,000 women and claims the lives of approximately 40,000 women annually in the United States alone. Researchers are trying to determine specific genetic or biological characteristics that may be associated with the development of breast cancer in order to identify women at a high risk of developing the disease and/or to identify specific targets for novel therapeutic approaches.

Data has shown that survival outcomes have remained worse for black women treated for breast cancer compared to white women. Researchers have attempted to explain this disparity through the the compilation and evaluation of data; however, no differing variables had been discovered to clarify this survival difference.

Researchers from the George Washington University Medical Center recently discovered a gene that may be, at least in part, responsible for the different survival outcomes between black and white women diagnosed with breast cancer. These researchers examined samples of breast cancer tissue and normal breast tissue. Of these samples, the gene known as BP1 was expressed in 80% of cancerous tissues, while only 15% of normal tissue specimens expressed low levels of the gene. Furthermore, 89% of black women had cancer that expressed BP1, compared to only 56% of white women. BP1 expression was significantly associated with estrogen-receptor negative (ER-negative) breast cancer and did not display a correlation between cancer size, aggressiveness of spread to lymph nodes.

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The researchers conclude that BP1 may be a potential target for treatment and early detection of breast cancer. In addition, BP1 may be responsible for the differences in survival between black and white women with breast cancer. Further studies are warranted to confirm these findings.

Reference: Berg P, et al.

Breast Cancer Research. 2003;5:R82-R87. Advanced Online edition.

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