Local researchers are learning more and more about how risk factors and disease progression can affect blacks differently.
In recognition of Black History Month, Windber Research Institute scientists want to show black women how to use the results to reduce their chance of disease.
“Celebrating the African American Woman: A Tribute to Your Health and Wellness” will be held from 2-4 p.m. Feb. 19 at Windber Research Institute, 620 Seventh St.
Windber studies have focused on several unique characteristics of breast cancer in African-American women, said Rachel Ellsworth, director of translational breast research.
“African-American women and Caucasian women are different in terms of breast cancer type,” Ellsworth said, explaining blacks get a type of breast cancer that is more aggressive and deadly.
The research has also shown black women are less likely to breast-feed their babies. They are more likely to have contributing conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
“We are looking at how those environmental issues might be impacting the more aggressive type of breast cancer,” Ellsworth said.
“One study showed aggressive cancer rate was higher in women who had children, but did not breast-feed, than in those who breast fed their children.
“We know that African American women are significantly less likely to breast-feed, and this lack of breast-feeding might be what is driving the preponderance of aggressive breast cancer in this population,” Ellsworth said.
By inviting more than 100 black women and extending an invitation to 15 churches in the black community, Windber’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention will launch a community-awareness campaign during the Feb. 19 event.
“At the celebration, I hope to talk to local African American women and get their opinions on how we can develop a ethnically-sensitive, yet effective intervention to take into the African American communities to encourage breast-feeding as a measure to reduce the breast cancer burden in these women,” Ellsworth said.
In addition, the institute wants to encourage more black women to participate in research, which they say has left the community behind.
By studying tumors under the microscope, Windber scientists hope to identify genetic markers for the aggressive cancer common in blacks. With that information, they can develop genetic tests such as the one for BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 cancer that is found mainly in whites.
“We are bringing people here to talk about breast cancer and talk about research,” tissue banking Senior Director Stella Somiari said. “Every ethnic group needs to participate equally. The idea is if people are better educated, we would have better participation. We let them make up their own minds.”
Virtually all of the breast cancer specimens from black women in Windber’s tissue bank were collected through its research partners, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington or Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md. That means it represents a primarily urban population, Ellsworth noted.
“Urban African American women are going to face different issues than rural women,” Ellsworth said. “We can generalize to the African American population, but it may be more skewed to the urban population.”
Ellsworth will present research results at the Feb. 19 event, and Somiari will provide information for potential participants.
Cancer survivor Starr Durham will speak on her experience and nurse Jane Haberkorn will outline lifestyle intervention programs for cancer survivors and those with high risk factors.
Master of ceremonies is reporter Janel Knight from WJAC-TV in Johnstown.
Reaching out to women
What: “Celebrating the African American Woman: A Tribute to Your Health and Wellness.”
When: 2-4 p.m. Feb. 19.
Where: Windber Research Institute, 620 Seventh St.
To register: 361-6904.
Cost: Free and open to the public.