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New BCRF-Funded Study Links Age of First Menstrual Cycle With Aggressive Breast Cancer in African-American Women

By BCRF | November 17, 2015

Breast Cancer Research Foundation grantee and lead author, Dr. Christine Ambrosone, explains the significance of the study

A new BCRF-funded study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute provides new insight on an aggressive form of breast cancer frequently diagnosed in African-American women. The results showed that a later age of a woman’s first menstrual cycle decreased the likelihood of developing ER-negative breast cancer.

“African-American women are more likely than Caucasian women to be diagnosed with ER negative breast cancers, which tend to be more aggressive and difficult to treat,” Dr. Christine Ambrosone, a BCRF grantee and lead author on the study, said about the study’s premise.

The study, which was part of a large multi-center project to study the epidemiologic and genetic causes for more aggressive breast cancer in African-American women, involved data from 4,426 African American women with breast cancer and 17,474 controls (without breast cancer).  The researchers sought to examine whether there was a relationship between the age of first menstrual cycle with the development of ER-positive or ER-negative breast cancer tumors.

“African-American girls tend to have earlier menarche (age at first menstrual cycle) than European-Americans, and that age is getting younger over time. Our results indicate that it is possible that early age at menarche could play a role in the disproportionate number of ER-negative breast cancers diagnosed in African-American women,” Ambrosone said.

“Dr. Ambrosone’s study provides important insights into the etiology of breast cancer,” stated BCRF’S Chief Mission Officer Marc Hurlbert. “In order to one day prevent breast cancer we need to understand how the breast naturally develops from birth followed by changes due to menarche, childbirth and breastfeeding. Finding links between any of these stages of breast development to cancer can inform prevention methods as well as risk assessment.”