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More than 30,000 black women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, the most recent year statistics were available. An estimated 6,310 black women were also expected to die from breast cancer the same year.

Now, a study published recently by Tuskegee University promises a new test for diagnosing aggressive form of breast cancers in African-American women at a very early stage.

The findings, published in PLOS ONE, the Public Library of Science (PLOS) peer-reviewed journal, underscore long-term research on cancer patients of color.

“Our research suggests that expression of the androgen receptor (the receptor for testosterone), should be added to the current set of prognostic markers — estrogen, progesterone and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 — used to test for classify and determine the aggressiveness of breast cancer,”  said Dr. Clayton Yates, professor of biology and director of the Center for Biomedical Research at Tuskegee.

“The addition of androgen receptor as a fourth biomarker could be game-changing,” said Dr. Windy Dean-Colomb, who serves as medical director of oncology for St. Patrick Christus Hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Shweta Tripathi, assistant professor of research, and Raymond Hughley, a master’s student in biology, led the team’s efforts to analyze publicly available data from thousands of breast cancer patients.

Tripathi and Hughley worked in partnership with researchers at medical schools, the Detroit-based Henry Ford Cancer Institute’s Breast Oncology, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Our new testing method shows significant promise as a prognostic marker for the most aggressive types of breast cancer — African-American women that lack AR (androgen receptor) expression are diagnosed 10 years earlier than patients with positive AR expression,” Yates said.

Yates indicated the next step for this laboratory-proven testing method is to obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration to conduct clinical trials with current breast cancer patients.

Research support comes through the National Cancer Institute’s Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity program.

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