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Breast cancer study reveals ethnicity role

Friday March 11th, 2016

Age may explain apparent ethnic differences in the development of breast cancer, a new study has found.

Although breast cancer is more aggressive in South Asian and black women than in white women, this is largely due to age differences between ethnic groups in the UK, says Dr Toral Gathani.

This is because the population of black and Asian women is younger than the white population - and so greater numbers are diagnosed at a young age with aggressive cancers, Dr Gathani reported.

The epidemiologist in the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford addressed delegates at the 10th European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC-10) yesterday (10 March, 2016), in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, detailing the findings from the largest study so far into tumour characteristics in relation to ethnicity.

She and her colleagues analysed data from more than 68,000 women with breast cancer registered in England between 2006 and 2013.

Of these, 66,192 were white women, 1,233 were of South Asian origin and 641 were black.

The average age at diagnosis – 55 – was five years lower in both South Asian women and black women than in white women.

Although South Asian and black women were more likely to have biologically aggressive tumours, there was little difference between the ethnic groups after factors that could affect the findings, particularly age, were adjusted.

Dr Gathani said: “Much of the apparent excess of aggressive breast tumours in South Asian and black women is simply because they are younger than white women.

“Black and South Asian women are known to be slightly less likely to develop breast cancer than white women. Although their cancers are diagnosed at younger ages, this is largely because these ethnic minority populations as a whole are younger than the population of white women in the UK.

“Breast cancer is more aggressive in younger than older women, and this largely explained why more aggressive tumour features were seen in ethnic minorities.”

Professor Fatima Cardoso, director of the Breast Unit at the Champalimaud Clinical Centre, Lisbon, Portugal, and chair of EBCC10, said: “This study suggests that the worse prognosis seen in breast cancer patients from ethnic minority groups in the UK can be at least in part explained by the younger age of this group.

“However, previous data show that age by itself may not be determinant of prognosis but rather the fact that breast cancer in younger ages is associated with features of worse prognosis. Therefore, further research is needed to clearly understand the role of age and ethnicity in breast cancer prognosis.”

Abstract no: 4. “Ethnicity and the tumour characteristics of breast cancer in a large nationally representative sample of women in England”.

Tags: Cancer | Europe | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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