Why Black Women Are More Likely To Die From Breast Cancer Than White Women

A new study suggests Black women’s cells repair DNA differently – calling for tailored treatment.
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Black women are less likely to have breast cancer than white women but they are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a later stage and die.

This is partly due to significant differences in the way DNA repair genes expresses themselves in white and Black women, new research has found.

A study by researchers from Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in California highlights how Black women’s cells repair DNA differently to white women’s cells.

This is important information as DNA repair is a crucial part of normal cell function, managing processes throughout the cell and helping them recover from failures that occur naturally during DNA replication or when responding to external factors like stress.

Black women with the most common forms of breast cancer are 42% more likely to die of the disease than white women, according to the scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys.

The findings suggest Black women could respond differently to certain treatments, too, and researchers are now calling for further research and investment into tailored treatment for an individual’s molecular makeup.

Svasti Haricharan, assistant professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys, looked at both healthy and tumour tissue from 185 Black women and analysed these, comparing samples from white women. Consistent molecular differences in the signals controlling how fast cells can grow were also found by researchers.

The scientists conducting the study were keen to emphasis that this research isn’t about ancestral or gene difference. “My biggest worry with this study is that it will be misunderstood,” Svasti told Metro.

“Ancestry is about the DNA that we are born with – that isn’t what we have looked at here. The DNA and molecular pathways that we studied could very easily be affected by lifestyle, climate conditions, and systemic racism in healthcare.” The findings could reflect socioeconomic status, she added

We know the depressing stats around Black women’s health. Black people have the highest cancer mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group with breast cancer making up nearly a third of all cancer diagnoses among Black women.

Black women are at a higher risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth in the UK compared to white women. This risk is five-fold higher, yet they only account for 4% of women who give birth in the UK, the 2018 and 2019 MBRRACE reports into maternal deaths and morbidity found.

Black people are also still more likely to get Covid than white people. Covid deaths were highest for the Black African group (3.7 times greater than for the White British group for males, and 2.6 greater for females), ONS stats suggest.

More research is needed into Black health outcomes, scientists behind this latest study said. “Black women are severely underrepresented in virtually all datasets of patient tumors, so a lot of previous results about breast cancer only accurately reflect what’s happening to white women,” Svasti told Metro.