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A research team at Tuskegee University has just made a major breakthrough in the fight against breast cancer—particularly the most aggressive and fatal form, which affects black women at a 42 percent-higher rate (pdf) than white women.

As reported by Michigan Chronicle Online, the team discovered a new means of detecting early markers and prescribing more targeted and, hopefully, more effective treatment. Dr. Clayton Yates, professor of biology and director of Tuskegee’s Center for Biomedical Research, published the team’s findings, saying:

Scientifically speaking, our research suggests that the expression of the androgen receptor [AR, the receptor for testosterone], should be added to the current set of prognostic markers—estrogen, progesterone and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2—used to test for classify and determine the aggressiveness of breast cancer.

The addition of a fourth biomarker could be “game-changing,” said oncologist Dr. Windy Dean-Colomb of St. Patrick Christus Hospital in Louisiana. Breast cancer is currently the second-most-common cancer among American women, and African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage. As a result, a staggering 40 percent of black women are more likely to die from breast cancer after their initial diagnosis. As Yates told the Michigan Chronicle:

Study after study proves that early detection is the key to long-term survival. Our new testing method shows significant promise for as a prognostic marker for the most aggressive types of breast cancer—African-American women that lack AR expression are diagnosed 10 years earlier than patients with positive AR expression. ...

As with any fight, you have to know your enemy. 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.