A new study seeks to find out why black women have a higher risk of dying from breast cancer, as well as a higher risk of having more aggressive forms of breast cancer.
The National Cancer Institute issued a $12 million grant for the study, which will look at more than 20,000 black women who have breast cancer, and compare them to white women with breast cancer as well as black women without cancer, according to The New York Times.
The study will seek inherited genetic variations in black women linked to breast cancer risk and compare them with the genetic variations in white women, according to Fox News.
Despite black women's higher mortality rate from breast cancer, the disease had until recently been more common in white women. In October 2015, black women's rate of breast cancer was the same as that of white women for the first time.
National Cancer Institute Acting Director Dr. Douglas R. Lowy said in a statement that the new study also seeks to find out why new advances in science that have given women of other races a better survival rate for breast cancer haven't done the same black women.
"This effort is about making sure that all Americans -- no matter their background -- reap the same benefits from the promising advances of precision medicine," Lowy said. "The exciting new approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment ring hollow unless we can effectively narrow the gap of cancer disparities, and this new research initiative will help us do that."
Robert Croyle, director of the NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, said the researchers hope that being able to identify the reason behind black women's higher mortality rate can lead to better methods of treatment.
"A better understanding of the genetic contributions to differences in breast cancer diagnoses and outcomes among African-Americans may lead to better treatments and better approaches to cancer prevention," said Croyle.
While there have been similar studies done for Caucasian and Asian women, the new study will be the first of its kind for women of African descent. University of Chicago Professor of Medicine Dr. Funmi Olopade, who is part of the study's consortium, said that for a long time, environmental factors like obesity and access to health care were provided as explanations for black women's higher death rate from breast cancer.
"But some of the work we have done has suggested it’s much more complex than that," Olopade said, pointing out that there may be contributing genetic factors.
"If you can identify who’s likely to get it, you may be able to develop a targeted way to identify them and get them the care that they need," said Olopade.