Genetic Variant May Help Protect Latinas From Breast Cancer

Did you know that Latinas are less likely than white or black women to be diagnosed with breast cancer? A specific gene variation, known as a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), that’s found in Hispanic women in the U.S. with indigenous American ancestry has been proven to lower the risk of breast cancer drastically.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco looked at he DNA from more than 3,000 women with the disease and 8,200 without breast cancer, study author Laura Fejerman of the Institute for Human Genetics told The New York Times. This was the first large-scale study to include a significant number of Latinas, which hailed mostly from Mexico, Colombia, and the California area.

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According to researchers, the gene variation tends to be found more in women with lower-density breasts. It’s also close to the “estrogen receptor gene and likely affects the expression of the estrogen receptor,” Dr. Elad Ziv, study author and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, told Cosmopolitan. Basically, this means that the gene may interfere with the way estrogen receptors promote the growth of cancerous cells.

So, what does this mean for women and for the prevention of breast cancer? The researchers haven’t reached the conclusion we’re all hoping for. However, they did find that Latinas who carried this variant are at lower risk for both estrogen-receptor positive cancer and the more aggressive estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer. According to Dr. Ziv, understanding how the genetic variant decreases the risk of estrogen-receptors that are negative for cancer is the key to finding a solution. At least it’s a really good start.

This is all not to say that Latinas are not at risk of ever developing breast cancer. In fact, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Latinas. Still, about one in five Latinas in the United States carry one copy of the genetic variant, which drops the risk to 5.4 percent. The researchers also found that there are 1 percent of Latinas who carry two copies of the gene variant, dropping the risk even further to 2 percent.

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