A genetic mutation common in Ashkenazi Jewish breast cancer patients has also been found to be prevalent in Hispanic and young African-American women with breast cancer, according to a new study.
The findings will help physicians identify more women at high risk for getting breast cancer and send them for screening and counseling, the authors say in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The genetic anomaly - called the BRCA1 mutation - is found in 8.3 percent of the Ashkenazi women with cancer, the highest rate, the authors report.
Hispanic women with breast cancer were the second most likely to have the mutation, at 3.5 percent. Non-Hispanic whites with breast cancer had a 2.2 percent rate, and Asian-American women had 0.5 percent.
However, while African-American women of all ages had a 1.3 percent likelihood of having the mutation, black breast cancer patients younger than 35 had a 16.7 percent mutation rate.
The researchers say the study was one of the largest, multi-racial studies of the mutation to date. It included 3,181 breast cancer patients in northern California.
"Traditionally, studies have focused on white women," says lead author Esther John. "There is a great need to study racial minorities in the United States."
The BRCA1 gene normally helps cells repair DNA. But women who inherit the mutation are less able to make the repairs, and have a 65 percent risk of developing breast cancer and 39 percent risk of ovarian cancer.
In the general population, the risk of a woman developing breast cancer is about one in eight - or 12.5 percent - over a lifetime.
The findings about young black women with breast cancer was a "surprise", although it is consistent with a pattern that breast cancer is especially aggressive in young African-American women, the authors say.
"The message is that these minority breast cancer patients may need screening in ways that we hadn't appreciated before," senior author Alice Whittemore says.
(China Daily via DPA January 1, 2008)