Young black women have a higher rate of breast and ovarian cancer-related gene mutations than previously believed, a new study finds.
These inherited mutations occur in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. It has been estimated that about 5 percent of breast cancer patients in the United States have these mutations, but previous studies included mostly white women. This study found that the rate among young black women is much higher.
Black women younger than 50 are much more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer than white women, but the reasons for this difference are unclear. Moffitt Cancer Center researchers looked at BRCA mutation rates for an answer.
The investigators looked at BRCA mutation rates among nearly 400 black women in Florida who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer before age 50. They found that more than 12 percent of these women had either BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.
More than 40 percent of the women with a BRCA mutation had no close relatives with breast or ovarian cancer. This suggests that family history doesn’t always identify women who may have BRCA mutations, the researchers said.
The study was published online recently in the journal Cancer.
“Our results suggest that it may be appropriate to recommend BRCA testing in all black women with invasive breast cancer diagnosed at or below age 50,” study leader and clinical geneticist Dr. Tuya Pal, from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., said in a center news release.
If a woman learns she has BRCA mutations, she can choose to have more breast cancer screening or preventive breast or ovary removal, the authors suggested. She can also alert family members about this genetic risk so they can take steps to prevent cancer, the researchers said.
However, the study authors noted that black women are less likely than white women to be referred for or to receive genetic testing and counseling. The researchers said high-risk black women need improved access to such services.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about BRCA mutations.