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Breast cancer gene common in blacks, study finds

| Monday, June 3, 2013, 6:06 p.m.

CHICAGO — Gene flaws that raise the risk of breast cancer are surprisingly common in black women with the disease, according to the first comprehensive testing in that racial group. The study found that one-fifth of those women have BRCA mutations, a problem usually associated with women of Eastern European Jewish descent but recently highlighted by the plight of Angelina Jolie.

The study may help explain why black women have higher rates of breast cancer at young ages — and a worse chance of survival.

Doctors say those patients should be offered genetic counseling and may want to consider more frequent screening and prevention options, which can range from hormone-blocking pills to breast removal.

“We were surprised at our results,” said the study leader, Dr. Jane Churpek, a cancer specialist at the University of Chicago. Too few black women have been included in genetic studies in the past, and most studies have not looked for mutations to the degree this one did, “so we just don't have a good sense” of how much risk there is, she said.

Churpek gave results of the study on Monday at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.

The study involved 249 black breast cancer patients from Chicago hospitals. They were given complete gene sequencing for all 18 known breast cancer risk genes rather than the usual tests that just look for a few specific mutations in BRCA genes.

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