Agressive breast cancer more common in minority women

Studying breast cancer disparities - Tiffany Tarpley

CLEVELAND - As Breast Cancer Awareness month comes to a close, the research to fight the disease is ongoing.

Recently, the National Institutes of Health began its largest study of breast cancer genetics in black women.

According to the NIH, “the rate of triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype, is twice as high in black women as compared to white women.”

Locally, doctors are also conducting research on the disparities.

"I have seen pretty aggressive triple negative breast cancers in the Cleveland area,”  Dr. Shaveta Vinayak, an assistant professor in medicine with Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, explained. “I’ve practiced in New York, California and lots of places but people are presenting definitely at more advanced stage and I definitely think we need to change that.”

Vinayak’s research and clinical practice focuses on triple negative breast cancer as well as trying to bring new clinical trials.

“I think there’s a lot of biology that’s not understood about why these women are getting triple negative breast cancers,” she says.

Her main area of research in African American and other women is on treatment.

That includes better understanding why certain women don’t respond well to chemotherapy and finding ways to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back.

Michelle Carter, 55, a patient of Dr. Vinayak, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in November of 2014.

“I had my good days, I had by bad days," she said. "But I had more good days than bad days.”

Carter says she wasn’t going to let this defeat her and with the help of her loved ones she won the fight.

“Taking chemo, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” she said.  “I knew I had a journey to go and I knew they were going to be behind me.”

Carter has been cancer free for over a year.

“Knowing now it’s more common in black women I’m really surprised by that but we’re strong,” she said.  “Stay strong, own it, do what you’re supposed to do, don’t let it defeat you.”

Vinayak believes it’s important that people from all communities, especially where triple negative cancer is more dominant, to participate in clinical studies, to find ways to improve future treatment.


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