Biomarker points to aggressive breast cancer in black women

African-American women who have high levels of a particular protein may be at risk for more aggressive breast cancer and poorer outcomes, according to new research from a Georgia State University study.

Ritu Aneja, associate professor of biology at GSU Atlanta

The research, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved, found that increased levels of the protein HSET were associated with worse breast cancer outcomes.

In triple-negative breast cancer--a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer that disproportionately afflicts African-American women--scientists have found that HSET is upregulated. HSET overexpression has previously been implicated in lung cancer metastasis to the brain.

"Our data indicate that HSET represents a potential new biomarker for poor breast cancer outcome among African-American women with the disease," said Ritu Aneja, associate professor of biology at Georgia State University in Atlanta, in a statement. "Using this biomarker effectively could give oncologists critical new information and potentially save lives by allowing earlier recognition of more aggressive breast cancers in African-American women, with the subsequent use of more customized treatment regimens to better manage disease."

Aneja and her team made their discovery after looking at breast tumor samples from 149 African-American women and 44 non-Hispanic white women and testing for levels of HSET. They found especially high levels--three times the amount--of HSET in the tumor samples from African-American women compared to non-Hispanic white women.

African-American women with the highest levels of HSET found in their tumors were also three to four times more likely to have shorter overall survival, progression-free survival and metastasis-free survival when compared with African-American women who tested on the low end of levels for HSET.

Aneja says a biomarker to detect aggressive cancer earlier in African-American women could improve breast cancer care for this population since African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age than non-Hispanic white women and are more likely to have cancers that spread, reappear or cause death.

- here's the press release

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