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Tompkins Hall at Tuskegee University.

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Tuskegee University researchers have developed a new testing method to detect the most aggressive form of breast cancer in Black women. As a result of the study, more “precise” methods can potentially be used in early detection and treatment of the disease.

Led by assistant research professor Shweta Tripath and Raymond Hugely, a master’s student in the university’s Department of Biology & Center for Cancer Research, the research team worked with other medical researchers to analyze 1258 patients. The study looked at androgen receptor (AR) and MRNA expression in 925 tumors from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and 136 tumors in two confirmation sets. It also determined AR protein expression in 197 tumors from a “multi-institutional cohort.”

As explained in the study’s abstract, while there’s increasing evidence that androgen receptor expression has prognostic usefulness in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), “where tumors that lack AR expression are considered ‘quadruple negative’ breast cancers (‘QNBC’),” there’s been no comprehensive analysis of AR expression reported by race. This study is especially significant because Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer—a more aggressive type of breast cancer—at a younger age. Hispanic women are also most commonly affected.

“Scientifically speaking, our research suggests that the 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 [two] — used to test for classify and determine the aggressiveness of breast cancer,” Dr. Clayton Yates, professor of biology and director of Tuskegee’s multidisciplinary Center for Biomedical Research, stated to The Public Library of Science.

“As with any fight, you have to know your enemy,” Yates continued. “Imagine going into battle not knowing if you needed a BB gun, a shotgun,or a bazooka. With this additional testing option, physicians will be able to better define the enemy and develop a more precise treatment plan. This, in turn, promises to be more effective for the patient — not to mention safer and less expensive — in the long run.”

As a result of the study’s findings, Black women can be diagnosed 10 years earlier than patients with positive AR expression, Yates adds.

Read the full report here.