Komen for the Cure

UNC Researchers Investigate Correlation Between Race, Breast Cancer

Posted June 6, 2006
Updated May 31, 2007

— Last fall, something threatened Lorie Williams' charmed family life. The 29-year-old mother found a lump in her breast during a self-exam. It was breast cancer.

"I had a feeling that I was going to die," Williams said. "That's kind of what I felt like, that it was a death sentence for me."

Williams had one of the most serious forms, called basal-like breast cancer. A new study shows younger black women are twice as likely to have that type of breast cancer as white women.

"They have more of the aggressive basal kind. They have less of the easier-to-treat kind," said Dr. Lisa Carey, a researcher at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers studied nearly 500 cases of breast cancer.

They found among pre-menopausal black women, 39 percent had the aggressive basal-like kind, compared to 14 percent of post-menopausal black women or 16 percent of white women of any age.

"We actually don't know why younger African-American women are more prone to this kind of aggressive form of breast cancer. That actually is a challenge for us," Carey said.

The study results helps researchers know more about basal-like cancer, which could lead to better prevention and treatment. One rule of prevention covers all types of breast cancer -- regular screening, which is what helped Williams. After chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, she's cancer-free.

"Don't be afraid to be proactive about your own health care," Williams said.

Chemotherapy is currently the most effective treatment for basal-like breast cancer -- regardless of the patient's race.

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