HACKENSACK, N.J. —Thousands of women are helping scientists learn more about breast cancer in African-Americans, including why it strikes young black women more aggressively and more often than white women.
They are answering many lifestyle questions, providing saliva samples for genetic analysis, and allowing researchers to measure their body-mass index as part of the most ambitious project to date to understand why breast cancer affects women of different races differently. More than 2,400 New Jersey women have joined the study already.
When these participants are combined with those from three other studies nationally, more than 10,000 women — half of them diagnosed with cancer and half of them healthy "controls" — will have participated. The National Cancer Institute provided $19.6 million in added funding this summer to allow four separate regional studies to pool their data, making it the largest study of its type.
"Breast cancer in African-American women occurs at an earlier age than in European-American women," according to the first paper from the Women's Circle of Health study, which began in 2003. It was co-authored by Elisa V. Bandera of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Karen Pawlish of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, with 28 others.
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Black women are more likely to have high-grade tumors and tumors that don't respond to hormonal therapy, the study has found. But the reasons are unknown, the 2009 report said.
Ethel Spray of Teaneck, N.J., wants to help find out why. Diagnosed last year, she has fully recovered. "When I got the letter (about the study) this past May, I responded to it," she said. An interviewer visited her and asked about "the type of food you eat, what you drink," she said. "Sometimes it's something in your past, stress that could bring it on."
"If there's any type of research or study that can make a difference in anybody's life, I would like to see it done," Spray said.
—The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)