Population differences in breast cancer: survey in indigenous African women reveals over-representation of triple-negative breast cancer

J Clin Oncol. 2009 Sep 20;27(27):4515-21. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2008.19.6873. Epub 2009 Aug 24.


Purpose: Compared with white women, black women experience a disproportionate burden of aggressive breast cancer for reasons that remain unknown and understudied. In the first study of its kind, we determined the distribution of molecular subtypes of invasive breast tumors in indigenous black women in West Africa.

Patients and methods: The study comprised 507 patients diagnosed with breast cancer between 1996 and 2007 at six geographic regions in Nigeria and Senegal. Formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded sections were constructed into tissue microarrays and immunostained with 15 antibodies. Five molecular subtypes were determined, and hierarchical cluster analysis was conducted to explore subgroups for unclassified cases.

Results: The mean (+/- standard deviation) age of 378 patients in the first cohort was 44.8 +/- 11.8 years, with the majority of women presenting with large (4.4 +/- 2.0 cm) high-grade tumors (83%) in advanced stages (72% node positive). The proportions of estrogen receptor (ER) -positive, progesterone receptor-positive, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) -positive tumors were 24%, 20%, and 17%, respectively. Triple negativity for these markers was predominant, including basal-like (27%) and unclassified subtype (28%). Other subtypes were luminal A (27%), luminal B (2%), and HER2 positive/ER negative (15%). The findings were replicated in the second cohort of 129 patients. The unclassified cases could be grouped into a bad prognosis branch, with expression of vascular endothelial growth factor, B-cell lymphoma extra-large protein, and Cyclin E, and a good prognosis branch, with expression of B-cell lymphoma protein 2 and Cyclin D1.

Conclusion: These findings underscore the urgent need for research into the etiology and treatment of the aggressive molecular subtypes that disproportionately affect young women in the African diaspora.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Genes, erbB-2*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nigeria / epidemiology
  • Receptors, Estrogen / blood*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / blood*
  • Senegal / epidemiology


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone