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Breast Cancer Gene Most Common In African American Women

Update Date: Jun 03, 2013 12:39 PM EDT

When actress Angelina Jolie revealed to the world that she underwent a double mastectomy to lower her chances of developing breast cancer, she opened up the conversation regarding breast cancer. Even though people might not agree with her decision, Jolie managed to draw more attention to a growing concern for all women and men in the global community. Although anyone can develop breast cancer, people with the BRCA mutation, which Jolie has, are more prone to the disease. According to a new study, researchers found that this specific mutation is the most common in African American women, suggesting that this group of women might need extra screenings and care.

In this study, the researchers, which included Mary-Claire King, the scientist from the University of Washington who discovered the BRCA1 gene and its relationship to breast cancer, recruited 249 African American cancer patients from the hospitals in the Chicago, IL area. The participants were mostly comprised of young women with a family history of breast cancer. After completing a gene sequence for the 18 breast cancer risk genes, the researchers found that 22 percent of the participants had some gene flaws. 46 out of the 56 participants had the specific BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation.

The researchers concluded that one in every five African American women could have this genetic mutation, which would explain why this group of women tend to have higher rates of breast cancer as well as lower survival rates from the cancer. The researchers stated that this group of women should reconsider their preventative measures. They might need extra screenings, care and more education regarding breast cancer.

"We were surprised at our results," Dr. Jane Churpek, the study's leader said. She is a cancer specialist from the University of Chicago. The researchers acknowledged the fact that previous studies did not involve an overwhelmingly large group of African American patients, which would explain why their findings were shocking.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of estimated new cases in 2013 is 232,340 for females and 2,240 for males with 39,620 and 410 projected deaths in each sex-group respectively. Within the United Stated, nearly five to 10 percent of breast cancer cases can be attributed to the BRCA mutation.

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.  The National Cancer Institute, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Komen for the Cure all funded the study. 

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