Open Access Open Badges Research article

Outcome disparities in African American women with triple negative breast cancer: a comparison of epidemiological and molecular factors between African American and Caucasian women with triple negative breast cancer

Lori A Sturtz1, Jen Melley1, Kim Mamula1, Craig D Shriver2 and Rachel E Ellsworth3*

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Breast Care Project, Windber Research Institute, Windber, PA, USA

2 Clinical Breast Care Project, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD, USA

3 Clinical Breast Care Project, Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Windber, PA, USA

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:62  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-62

Published: 4 February 2014



Although diagnosed less often, breast cancer in African American women (AAW) displays different characteristics compared to breast cancer in Caucasian women (CW), including earlier onset, less favorable clinical outcome, and an aggressive tumor phenotype. These disparities may be attributed to differences in socioeconomic factors such as access to health care, lifestyle, including increased frequency of obesity in AAW, and tumor biology, especially the higher frequency of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) in young AAW. Improved understanding of the etiology and molecular characteristics of TNBC in AAW is critical to determining whether and how TNBC contributes to survival disparities in AAW.


Demographic, pathological and survival data from AAW (n = 62) and CW (n = 98) with TNBC were analyzed using chi-square analysis, Student’s t-tests, and log-rank tests. Frozen tumor specimens were available from 57 of the TNBC patients (n = 23 AAW; n = 34 CW); RNA was isolated after laser microdissection of tumor cells and was hybridized to HG U133A 2.0 microarrays. Data were analyzed using ANOVA with FDR <0.05, >2-fold difference defining significance.


The frequency of TNBC compared to all BC was significantly higher in AAW (28%) compared to CW (12%), however, significant survival and pathological differences were not detected between populations. Gene expression analysis revealed the tumors were more similar than different at the molecular level, with only CRYBB2P1, a pseudogene, differentially expressed between populations. Among demographic characteristics, AAW consumed significantly lower amounts of caffeine and alcohol, were less likely to breastfeed and more likely to be obese.


These data suggest that TNBC in AAW is not a unique disease compared to TNBC in CW. Rather, higher frequency of TNBC in AAW may, in part, be attributable to the effects of lifestyle choices. Because these risk factors are modifiable, they provide new opportunities for the development of risk reduction strategies that may decrease mortality by preventing the development of TNBC in AAW.