Genetic testing: A lifesaver for Black women and breast cancer

Breast cancer can strike women and men of all ages and races. White women are slightly more likely to get breast cancer while Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Breast cancer strikes women and men of all ages and races. White women are slightly more likely to get breast cancer—yet, black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease. While researchers aren’t exactly sure why there is such a striking disparity, some say it could be that fewer minorities are aware of their hereditary breast cancer risk, and only a very small percentage undergo genetic testing.

Ivanhoe has steps women of color should consider to lower their risk and save lives.

Neonatal intensive care nurse Kimyatta Frazier feels empowered in her job helping preemies get healthy.

“I take care of them from the time they’re born until the time they go home with their families,” explained Frazier.

But in her personal life, Frazier could do very little as she watched one relative after another, after another battle with breast cancer.

Frazier says, “My mother just passed away from breast cancer. Her sister is currently dealing with stage four triple-negative breast cancer. She lost her older sister to breast cancer and my grandmother, her mother also had breast cancer.”

Three aunts on her father’s side all had breast cancer.

“It’s in multiple generations. There’s a lot of affected people,” explains Dana Farengo-Clark, MS Senior Genetic Counselor, University of Pennsylvania.

With genetic testing, technicians take a person’s blood or saliva and look for mutations. With testing, patients like Frazier can take preventive measures if they test positive for a gene mutation.

“We may want to screen your breasts more frequently. We may want to do a colonoscopy earlier than you would’ve needed,” Farengo-Clark says.

A very low percentage of black women pursue genetic testing, in part because of common misconceptions.

“One is that, you know, this is specialty medicine and you have to be sort of, you know, rich or famous to get this testing. Not true at all,” states Farengo-Clark.

Most insurance now covers genetic testing. Over the past decade, the cost of the testing has dropped to about $250 and sometimes as little as $100. Despite her strong family history, none of Frazier’s doctors recommended genetic testing until she asked about it.

“It’s not painful. It’s nothing bad. It can very well save your life or extend your life,” says Frazier.

Despite Frazier’s family history, her test came back negative for mutations in the BRCA one and BRCA two genes, as well as a number of other breast cancer genes on the panel.

Genetic counselor Farengo-Clark says Frazier will still receive more frequent screenings. A mammogram or breast MRI every six months instead of every year because of her family history.