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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A population-based study of Kurdish breast cancer in northern Iraq: Hormone receptor and HER2 status. A comparison with Arabic women and United States SEER data

Runnak A Majid1, Hazha A Mohammed2, Hemin A Hassan1, Wasan A Abdulmahdi1, Rekawt M Rashid3 and Michael D Hughson1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathology, Shorsh General Hospital, Sulaimaniyah, Iraq

2 Division of Oncology, Hewa Hematology and Oncology Hospital, Sulaimaniyah, Iraq

3 Office of the Director of Health, Sulaimaniyah Governate, Sulaimaniyah, Iraq

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BMC Women's Health 2012, 12:16  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-12-16

Published: 22 June 2012



Hormone receptor (HR) and HER2 expression predict the therapeutic response and prognosis of breast cancer. In the Middle-East, breast cancer is diagnosed at a young age, and Arabic women are reported to have a low frequency of HR positive tumors. This study investigates HR and HER2 expression among Kurdish and Arabic women.


During 2008–2010, the Sulaimaniyah Directorate of Health records identified 514 Sulaimaniyah Kurdish women, 227 Kurdish women of other Governates, and 83 Arabic women with a first diagnosis of breast cancer. The breast cancers of 432 women had immunohistochemistry (IHC) performed for estrogen and progesterone receptors (ER and PR) and HER2. Age specific and age standardized incidence rates were calculated for Sulaimaniyah Kurds. Results were compared with Egypt and with United States (US) SEER data.


The median patient age was 46 years and 60.4% were < 50 years old. Tumors of 65.2% of women were ER+/HER2- with the rate increasing to 78.3% in patients ≥ 60 years old in proportions similar to US whites. The total annual age standardized incidence for breast cancer among Sulaimaniyah Kurds was 40.5/100,000 women, a rate similar to Egypt but much lower than the US. By HR/HER2 subtype, the highest age specific incidence rates were 16.4 and 45.4/100,000 for ER+/PR+/HER2- tumors in women < 50 or ≥ 50 years old, respectively (US whites: 37.7 and 226.1/100,000). Tumors of 20.4% of Sulaimaniyah women were HER2+ with annual incidence rates for ER-/PR-/HER2+ tumors of women <50 or ≥ 50 years old being 4.0 and 6.3/100,000 (US whites: 3.2 and 14.4/100,000). No significant differences in ER or HER2 status were found between Kurdish and Arabic patients.


Compared to the US, low age standardized and age specific breast cancer incidence rates were found in Kurdish women; nevertheless, the proportional expression of HR and HER2 for both Kurds and Arabs was comparable to that of US white women. The great majority of the breast cancer was ER+/HER2- and should respond to anti-estrogen therapy.

Breast cancer; Hormone receptors; HER2; Estrogen receptors; Middle East; Kurdish; Arabic; Iraqi women