Promising new treatment for Black breast cancer patients

Approximately one in every eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime.

And while African-American women in particular have some of the highest cancer recurrence rates of any ethnic group, a new study has found that black women who undergo treatment for breast cancer may fare better when their medical care is performed in a certain order.

The study utilized information from 10,504 breast cancer patients treated between 2005 and 2015 at the Northside Hospital in Atlanta. Of those patients, 225 experienced a recurrence, including 166 European-Americans and 49 African-Americans. Data showed that African-American patients were 70% more likely to have a recurrence of their cancer.

Nikita Wright, study author, noted in a press release:

“We found that, in general, African-American breast cancer patients exhibit increased likelihood for tumor recurrence, particularly to regional and distant sites, after receiving any combination of adjuvant therapy (treatment following surgery) compared to European-American breast cancer patients. This higher incidence of tumor recurrence can contribute to a poorer prognosis.”

However, researchers found a great reason to be hopeful. When doctors switched the order of the women’s medical treatments, researchers found an abrupt about-face in treatment outcomes. By undergoing chemotherapy prior to surgery, rather than afterwards, these African-American patients had a much lower rate of cancer recurrence in their lymph nodes and other organs.

Wright added, “We found that African-American breast cancer patients responded better to neoadjuvant chemotherapy than European-American patients. Among patients who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy, African-Americans exhibited trends of lower regional and distant tumor recurrence than European-Americans, but higher local recurrence, which is easier to manage clinically and is associated with a relatively better prognosis.”

Interestingly enough, the original occurrence rate of breast cancer for African-Americans and European-Americans is very similar. However, breast cancer in African-American patients tends to be much more aggressive. As a result, it’s been a challenge for physicians to find effective treatments for African-American breast cancer patients.

But the study’s results suggest that something as simple as switching the order in which these patients are treated can make a huge difference. Researchers don’t yet know why cancers found in African-Americans are more difficult to treat; however, this study shows promising results that could change the way doctors fight cancer in the future.