News Release: Emory Healthcare , Research , School of Medicine , Winship Cancer Institute

Jun. 8,  2011

Hard-to-treat Breast Cancer in African American Women Topic of Winship Town-Hall Gathering

ATLANTA – A subtype of breast cancer with limited treatment options that disproportionately affects young African American women will be the subject of a community town-hall educational gathering on June 23.     

“Triple Negative Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know” will begin with light refreshments at 6 p.m. June 23, 2011, in the Glenn Auditorium at Emory University Hospital Midtown on Peachtree Street.  An interactive panel discussion on triple negative breast cancer will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m.  Women who would like more information about breast cancer will have the opportunity to interact with a panel that include physicians, breast cancer surgeons, survivors, nurses and other health-care professionals.  

About one in five, or twenty percent, of breast cancers in the general population are believed to be this type of cancer, generally referred to as “triple negative.”  A  2006 Emory University study showed that 39 percent of premenopausal African American women were diagnosed with this form of breast cancer. However, in post-menopausal African American women the number did drop to 14 percent.    

“The reason we are concerned is because we see so much triple negative breast cancer in young African American women,” says Monica Rizzo, MD, director of Emory Breast Surgery at Grady Memorial Hospital, and because treatment options are fewer than with hormone-positive breast cancers. Researchers at Winship and other major cancer centers are studying why this is so.  Answers are not yet clear, Rizzo says.  

Triple negative breast cancer is so called because it isn’t fueled by one of three hormones commonly associated with breast cancer growth -- estrogen, progesterone or human epidermal growth factor (HER2).  Instead, triple negative breast cancer has been identified as a distinct subtype called “basal-like subtype.” Because its cells are not fueled by one of the three known hormones, it does not respond to newer drugs such as tamoxifen and herceptin that treat hormone-fueled breast cancers.  

Customized Breast Cancer Treatment  

Different molecular subtypes of breast cancer are now identified in breast cancer patients by gene-expression profiling before they are treated. The knowledge about whether breast cancer tests positive for the presence of estrogen, progesterone or HER2 gives doctors a tremendous advantage in knowing how to customize treatment for each patient.   

Researchers are looking at risk factors other than race for triple negative breast cancer, and some include excess weight gain, lack of breast feeding and elevated waist-to-height ratio. Beyond such physical elements, some researchers are focusing on social and psychological factors, including social isolation and stress.     

Rizzo says the screening guidelines for African American women are still the same – mammogram screenings beginning at age 40, unless a woman has a family history of a first-degree relative who was diagnosed with the disease prior to age 50.  

For more information and to register, log on to



The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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