Purpose: Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease, with at least five intrinsic subtypes defined by molecular characteristics. Tumors that express the estrogen receptor (ER+) have better outcomes than ER- tumors, due in part to the success of hormonal therapies that target ER+ tumors. The incidence of ER- breast cancer, and the subset of ER- cancers that are basal-like, is about twice as high among African American (AA) women as among US women of European descent (EA). This disparity appears to explain, in part, the disproportionately high mortality from breast cancer that occurs in AA women. Epidemiologic research on breast cancer in AA women lags behind research in EA women. Here, we review differences in the etiology of breast cancer subtypes among AA women and describe a new consortium of ongoing studies of breast cancer in AA women.
Methods: We combined samples and data from four large epidemiologic studies of breast cancer in AA women, two cohort and two case-control, creating the African American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk consortium. Tumor tissue is obtained and stored in tissue microarrays, with assays of molecular markers carried out at a pathology core. Genotyping, carried out centrally, includes a whole exome SNP array and over 180,000 custom SNPs for fine-mapping of genome-wide association studies loci and candidate pathways.
Results: To date, questionnaire data from 5,739 breast cancer cases and 14,273 controls have been harmonized. Genotyping of the first 3,200 cases and 3,700 controls is underway, with a total of 6,000 each expected by the end of the study period.
Conclusions: The new consortium will likely have sufficient statistical power to assess potential risk factors, both genetic and non-genetic, in relation to specific subtypes of breast cancer in AA women.