Stories about breast cancer that can inspire and inform

Blog  |  Newsroom

Bridging the Gap for Black Women with Breast Cancer 

Black women in the U.S. are about 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women and the cause of this is multifaceted. Underlying tumor characteristics play a role. Aggressive tumor characteristics are more common in Black women in the U.S. than in other racial/ethnic groups. Systemic factors account for this gap as well.

For example, Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to be uninsured compared to white women and are less likely to be educated by physicians about the importance of genetic counseling. At Komen, achieving health equity is a strategic priority, and we know that research can help us close the mortality gap between Black and white women. Because of Komen research funding, Komen researchers have recently made important strides in understanding this gap in the past few months: 

  • Black people have been historically underrepresented in biomedical research, which has resulted in less effective treatments and tools. One example is that genetic risk scores, which have largely been developed using people from European ancestries, have been limited in predicting breast cancer risk in Black women. Recently, a new genetic risk score was developed using genetic data from people with African ancestries. Komen Scholar Dr. Julie Palmer combined this genetic risk score with her previously developed Black Women’s Health Study risk calculator to further personalize breast cancer risk prediction for Black women in the U.S. 
  • Dr. Palmer has also been investigating how psychosocial stressors may impact Black women’s underlying tumor biology. In a recent study, she analyzed 417 tumors from participants of the Black Women’s Health Study and compared tumors from women who have different levels of psychosocial stress from experiences such as early life trauma and neighborhood disadvantage. Dr. Palmer found that high levels of stress can impact breast tumor biology, suggesting that more research is needed to understand how psychosocial stress contributes to the development of breast cancer. 
  • A person at high risk for breast cancer may lower their risk by taking measures, such as undergoing additional screenings or preventive surgeries. Even when someone is at a high risk for developing breast cancer, many factors contribute to how that risk may be managed. Komen grantee Dr. Electra Paskett compiled a new diverse dataset of women who were at high risk for breast cancer and historically underrepresented in research, including Black women. This dataset will help researchers understand the factors, choices and circumstances surrounding the participants’ breast cancer risk management. 
  • The quest to achieve health equity spans all countries and knows no borders. Komen Scholar Dr. Olufunmilayo Olopade and TREND Trainee Jingcong Freeman found that benign breast conditions like fibroadenomas were associated with breast cancer diagnoses in sub-Saharan African countries. These study results may one day help inform breast cancer risk in this population. 

From pinpointing risk factors to dissecting the unique biology of Black women’s tumors, these research studies are critical in closing the gap and achieving health equity for Black women with breast cancer.