Study: Gestational diabetes, prediabetes could increase breast cancer risk in African-American women

Researchers find cell pathways that could allow early detection, prevention

WASHINGTON — Researchers have found signaling pathways in cells that may allow earlier detection and prevention of cancer in African-American women.

According to a study presented at the American Association of Cancer Research's Fourth AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Washington, while the pathways can be detected in cells that have not become cancerous, they also are linked to how cells consume and break down sugar, which raises concern that such conditions as gestational diabetes and prediabetes could stimulate precancerous cells and make them cancerous.

"We see a lot of very aggressive, triple-negative breast cancers among young African-American women and a very high death rate, with only 14% alive at five years," Duke University professor of medicine and study researcher Victoria Seewaldt said. "We wanted to figure out why this was occurring among these women."

Seewaldt and her colleagues looked at two independent groups of 39 and 38 premenopausal African-American women who were considered to be at high risk of cancer because they had mothers or sisters who died of breast cancer at an early age.

"We found that in a high proportion of high-risk African-American women, these precancerous cells were taking in a high amount of glucose, and they also had activation of insulin signaling," Seewaldt said. "In these women, we would worry that if they had developed gestational diabetes that the condition could really stimulate precancerous cells."

Seewaldt said that exercise, weight loss and the diabetes drug metformin provided opportunities for preventing aggressive breast cancer in African-American women.

"These are things where a community approach could really make a difference," she said.

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