During Black History Month, it is worthwhile to spend some time learning about key figures responsible for advancing cancer research and treatment. The African-American woman Dr. Jane Wright was the first female elected president of the New York Cancer Society, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

Dr. Wright was a scientific researcher and surgeon who strengthened chemotherapy as a legitimate form of cancer treatment. Wright completed her residency at Harlem Hospital and worked as chief resident. Dr. Wright was also responsible for the creation of a catheter system that pushed stronger cancer drugs to hard-to-reach cancerous sections of the spleen, kidneys, and other organs. She also headed the cancer chemotherapy department at NYC’s New York Medical College in the late 1960s.

When looking at breast cancer disparities, it is also important to remember during Black History Month that, while African-American women are diagnosed with breast cancer at a 10 percent lower rate than white women, statistics also show that African-American women are 37 percent more likely to perish from the condition, reported the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Despite these dismal findings, new research from the Georgia State University found that providing chemotherapy to African-American breast cancer patients before undergoing surgery improve outcomes and survival rates, according to Science Daily.

Specifically, the results show that these patients had decreased regional and distant breast cancer recurrence. Breast cancer recurrence has been the primary reason for the health disparities found between Caucasian and African-American women since it makes management of the disease that much more difficult.

This study is the first clinical trial showing that chemotherapy before surgery could improve survival rates and health outcomes among African-American breast cancer patients. The findings were published in the medical journal PLOS ONE.

“We found that, in general, African-American breast cancer patients exhibit increased likelihood for tumor recurrence, particularly to regional and distant sites, after receiving any combination of adjuvant therapy (treatment following surgery) compared to European-American breast cancer patients. This higher incidence of tumor recurrence can contribute to a poorer prognosis,” said Nikita Wright, first author of the study and a senior Ph.D. student in Dr. Ritu Aneja’s laboratory in Georgia State’s Biology Department.

“Interestingly, we found that neoadjuvant chemotherapy actually reversed these recurrence trends,” Wright continued. “We found that African-American breast cancer patients responded better to neoadjuvant chemotherapy than European-American patients. Among patients who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy, African-Americans exhibited trends of lower regional and distant tumor recurrence than European-Americans, but higher local recurrence, which is easier to manage clinically and is associated with a relatively better prognosis.”

The researchers looked at data of breast cancer patients in one hospital from the years 2005 to 2015. The scientists looked at trends among white and black patients specifically considering tumor recurrence and different treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy. An additional finding from the research includes higher tumor recurrence among African-American patients than European-American patients.

During Black History Month, take some time to remember the pioneers such as Dr. Jane Wright that have pushed forward cancer treatment as well as the ongoing research that improves survival rates among African-American breast cancer patients.

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