Breast Cancer Health Equity

Unlocking the complexities of disparities in breast cancer

For years, the medical community thought cancer disparities could be solely attributed to socioeconomic factors, but current research tells a much more complex story. 

Through our precision genomics research—what we call Monogrammed Medicine—the investigators at the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research are finding ways to tailor treatments for women of different ethnicities to fight breast cancer more effectively and with fewer side effects.

We’re also learning how to identify and characterize unique biomarkers within the normal breast tissue of Black women that may impact health disparities in breast cancer. And we’re leading a unique National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trial specifically for Black women, designed to better understand and treat neuropathy, a side effect of chemotherapy.

The vast majority of people think of health disparities from the point of view of socioeconomic factors, but we are looking at the biological factors or the biological basis of health disparities.

Hari Nakshatri, MD — Marian J. Morrison Professor of Breast Cancer Research

Breakthrough: Unique biomarkers in Black women

Hari Nakshatri, PhD, has upended the assumption that African-American women with breast cancer have worse outcomes when compared to other women simply because they often lack access to breast screenings and quality care.

He discovered that African-American women tend to have a higher number of healthy breast cells that can become more aggressive if cancer develops. 

Research continues to assess risk and develop appropriate standards of care for prevention and treatment of aggressive forms of the disease.

Press Release Meet Dr. Nakshatri

Breakthrough: Understanding Normal

In 2005, Anna Maria Storniolo, MD, began asking women to donate biopsies of their healthy breasts for research.

Now, researchers around the world collaborate with the Komen Tissue Bank using tissue samples from more than 10,000 women of Asian, African, South and Central American, and European descent.

Prior to Dr. Storniolo’s breakthrough initiative, researchers utilized fat tissue discarded from breast reduction surgeries and considered it “normal.” Comparing these two types of “healthy” tissue has informed the worldwide research community that the two are vastly different.

Studies are now underway to compare diseased and “true” normal cells to understand how breast cancer develops, and the biological factors that affect how different ethnicities present with breast cancer.

Learn More Meet Dr. Storniolo

Breakthrough: Reducing side effects of chemotherapy

Vera Bradley Professor of Oncology Bryan Schneider, MD, is leading a national study that is expected to reduce the side effects of breast cancer treatment in African-American women.

Peripheral neuropathy, a common side effect of some chemotherapy drugs, causes numbness or pain in the hands, feet, or limbs and disproportionately affects Black patients. In some cases, the toxicity is so severe in Black women that physicians need to reduce dosages—leading to significantly worse outcomes.

Dr. Schneider is leading the national EAZ171 clinical trial—the first ever to be exclusively focused on Black women—to better understand and treat neuropathy induced by taxane chemotherapy drugs.

Press release Meet Dr. Schneider

The solution to being able to eradicate disparities is to substantially focus our efforts on understanding why there are differences and then attacking the cancer more effectively.

Bryan Schneider, MD — Vera Bradley Professor of Oncology

About the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer

To date, the Vera Bradley Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit fundraising organization, has committed more than $50 million to advance breast cancer research and treatment in Indiana and around the world.

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