Black women in the US less likely to access preventative cancer treatments

October 03, 2017

The report looked at 408 women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancers and found that black women in the group were 78 percent less likely to undergo genetic counselling than white women and the disparity could not be attributed to income, cancer risk perception and worry, or attitudes about such testing. The report did find that on the whole black women appeared to visit a "a relatively small proportion" of US physicians who are less likely to be board certified and who are "more likely to report difficulty delivering high quality care." They were also more distrusting of the health care system than whites, and that may serve "as a barrier to use of medical care."

Counselling can help women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer decide if they should be tested to learn whether they, or their children, are in a high-risk group. If so, testing looks at the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes where mutations have been shown to increase risk of breast or ovarian cancer. Detecting mutations helps women decide if they need protective surgery, drugs or additional screening, or if their daughters are also likely at risk. This testing has only been around since 1996 and mutations are relatively rare and the risk information may not be precise.

The report found evidence that African American women underestimate their risk of breast cancer and are less aware of genetic testing technology as a means of assessing personal risk.

In an editorial commenting on the study, researchers at the University of Chicago said: "Clearly, access to preventive medical care in the United States is by no means equally distributed."

The report is published in the current edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The new approach has some significant advantages over other alternatives that are under development, according to Drezek. For instance, optical imaging is much faster and less expensive than other medical imaging techniques. Gold nanoparticles are also more biocompatible than other types of optically active nanoparticles, such as quantum dots.

Gold is a chemically inert material that is well-known for its biocompatibility, which is why it has found use in a variety of medical applications in the past. "There is a prior history of the use of gold inside the body that makes the safety issues somewhat easier to address," Drezek says. Of course, any new technology requires extensive safety assessment before coming to market, but initial results from nanoshells testing are promising. Nanoshells developed for therapeutic applications have already been evaluated by Nanospectra Biosciences Inc., the Houston-based company that is commercializing the technology, with no ill effects found, according to Drezek.

Drezek and West have successfully tested the separate imaging and therapy aspects of the nanoshells in animals and are now evaluating the combined imaging/therapy nanoshells in a mouse tumor model, which they expect to complete within the next six months.