Benign Breast Disease in African American Women

Breast cancer risks characterized in benign breast disease in African American women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A woman is told something looks suspicious on her mammogram and a biopsy is ordered. When the biopsy doesn’t find cancer, her sigh can be heard around the world. And while this is good news, she may still need to be concerned.

Benign breast disease (BBD) covers a wide swath of breast abnormalities – from cysts to cell changes. This condition is a known risk factor for breast cancer in Caucasian women, but not much is known about what BBD means for African American women.

A new study looked at BBD in African American women and uncovered breast changes that clinicians need to monitor closely.

"If you notice ANY change in your breasts, see your doctor."

To learn more about BBD in African American women, Michele Cote, PhD, associate professor of oncology in the Wayne State School of Medicine and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, led a study that reviewed data on roughly 1,400 African American women who received breast biopsies between 1997 and 2000.

Data on women who were diagnosed with BBD were tracked for later breast cancer diagnoses. The women studied were between the ages of 20 and 84.

BBD is divided into three different categories. Nonproliferative BBD indicates changes in the breast tissue itself, such as cysts. Proliferative without atypia BBD is characterized by cell growth or other cell changes – usually found in the linings of the ducts. Atypia means that some genetic changes have taken place in the cells, some of which have features similar to cancer cells.

Of the women in the study, researchers saw that 68 percent had nonproliferative BBD, and 29 percent had the proliferative form of the disease without atypia. The remaining 3 percent had proliferative BBD with atypia, a percentage similar to a group of Caucasian women studied recently by the Mayo Clinic.

The women with proliferative BBD with atypia had a three-fold increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who did not have proliferative disease.

In studying the cells of women with BBD, Dr. Cote and her colleagues discovered that cells which were arranged like columns were more likely to become cancerous.

dailyRx News spoke with breast cancer specialist, Christopher O. Ruud, MD, of the Austin Cancer Centers, about this study. “Any study establishing markers that are a precursor to malignancy is valuable. These high risk women are a target population in which chemopreventative agents can be developed. It is important to establish that the findings are similar in African American and Caucasian women," Dr. Ruud told dailyRx News.

Dr. Cote’s team hopes to develop risk models that can be used with women of both races. "Better characterization of the risk of breast cancer among women with BBD, considering both ethnicity and detailed molecular findings, can lead to better surveillance, earlier diagnosis and, potentially, improved survival," the authors concluded.

This study, which was supported by the Susan B. Komen Foundation, appeared in the February issue of Cancer Prevention Research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 14, 2013
Last Updated:
February 16, 2013