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Breast cancer genes in African-American women

Scientists’ understanding of the genetic roots of breast cancer is based largely on research conducted in women of European ancestry. But that knowledge does little to explain why African-American women with breast cancer are more likely to be diagnosed at younger ages and with more aggressive tumors than their white counterparts. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are launching a major study involving 600 African-American women with breast cancer to learn whether their genetic risks are influenced by the same gene mutations that affect white women or if their mutations are altogether different. Such information may lead to new ways to prevent or treat breast cancer in African-American women.

AS SCIENTISTS HAVE MADE BIG ADVANCES IN GENETIC TESTING FOR BREAST CANCER, NOT ALL WOMEN HAVE GOTTEN THE BENEFITS. MOST OF THAT RESEARCH HAS BEEN DONE IN WOMEN OF EUROPEAN ANCESTRY, AND MUCH LESS IS KNOWN ABOUT THE GENETICS OF BREAST CANCER IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN. NOW, A TEAM OF RESEARCHERS AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN ST. LOUIS IS TRYING TO CHANGE THAT. JIM DRYDEN HAS THE STORY…

BEGINNING WITH BRCA1 AND 2, THE SO-CALLED BRCA GENES, DOCTORS AND SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN LEARNING HOW TO IDENTIFY WOMEN AT RISK FOR BREAST CANCER AND, IN SOME CASES, TO PROVIDE TREATMENT BEFORE ANY SYMPTOMS ACTUALLY PRESENT THEMSELVES. WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY GENETICS RESEARCHER LAURA BIERUT SAYS THERE’S BEEN SOMETHING OF A REVOLUTION IN GENETIC TESTING OVER THE LAST DECADE OR SO.

(act) :23 o/c African-American populations

But as you start to look at the genetic data, you realize that

these studies have been done in populations of European ancestry.

One of the next areas that we need to turn to is getting a better

understanding of genetic causes of cancer in other populations,

and in particular, in African-American populations.

SO BIERUT AND HER COLLEAGUES ARE LAUNCHING A STUDY IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN WHO HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER. CO-INVESTIGATOR AND SITEMAN CANCER CENTER ONCOLOGIST FOLUSO ADEMUYIWA SAYS TO QUALIFY FOR THE STUDY, THE ONLY CRITERIA ARE THAT A WOMAN BE AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND THAT THAT WOMAN HAS BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER AT SOME POINT IN HER LIFE.

(act) :14 o/c black women

We’re inviting all women with breast cancer, who are African

Americans, and the ultimate goal is to really try to understand

what genetic factors drive the aggressive disease in black women.

BIERUT SAYS AS GENETICISTS HAVE BEEN GAINING A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF SOME OF THE UNDERLYING GENETIC CAUSES OF BREAST CANCER, AND DELIVERING BETTER DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT TO WHITE WOMEN, THE SAME THING ISN’T NECESSARILY TRUE FOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN.

(act) :18 o/c in time

The African-American women with breast cancer present at a

younger age. They have more aggressive types of breast cancer,

and they have the characteristics of breast cancer that are

often thought to have genetic underpinnings. Yet we don’t know

what these genetic underpinnings are at this point in time.

CO-INVESTIGATOR ADEMUYIWA SAYS IT’S A FAIRLY STRAIGHTFORWARD STUDY. WOMEN WHO PARTICIPATE NEED ONLY PROVIDE A SALIVA SAMPLE AND ANSWER SOME QUESTIONS.

(act) :19 o/c these women

We’re going to try to obtain a family history to see if there is

a family history of breast and ovarian cancer, and then we’re going

to be doing genetic testing on all these women to really see if we

can build a database to find out what genes, if any, contribute to

breast cancer aggressiveness in these women.

AND BIERUT SAYS ALTHOUGH THIS STUDY IS BEGINNING AS A SINGLE-CENTER STUDY AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY AND THE SITEMAN CANCER CENTER, THE HOPE IS TO BUILD IT UP OVER TIME, TO INCLUDE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN FROM OTHER PLACES AND TO DEVELOP A VERY LARGE DATABASE OF DNA.

(act) :11 o/c risks are

And that’s what we want to do. We really want to improve the

health of people with cancer, to prevent cancer in the future

and to give people the information about what their risks are.

BIERUT AND ADEMUYIWA SAY BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF GENETIC RISKS COULD HELP IMPROVE DIAGNOSIS, TREATMENT AND SURVIVAL FOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN WITH BREAST CANCER. I’M JIM DRYDEN…

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