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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2018 Feb 1;110(2). doi: 10.1093/jnci/djx135.

Racial Differences in PAM50 Subtypes in the Carolina Breast Cancer Study.

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Department of Epidemiology, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center; Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine, Department of Nutrition (EHA), and Department of Genetics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC; Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard University, Boston, MA; Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics, Global Health Department of Medicine, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.



African American breast cancer patients have lower frequency of hormone receptor-positive (HR+)/human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-negative disease and higher subtype-specific mortality. Racial differences in molecular subtype within clinically defined subgroups are not well understood.


Using data and biospecimens from the population-based Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS) Phase 3 (2008-2013), we classified 980 invasive breast cancers using RNA expression-based PAM50 subtype and recurrence (ROR) score that reflects proliferation and tumor size. Molecular subtypes (Luminal A, Luminal B, HER2-enriched, and Basal-like) and ROR scores (high vs low/medium) were compared by race (blacks vs whites) and age (≤50 years vs > 50 years) using chi-square tests and analysis of variance tests.


Black women of all ages had a statistically significantly lower frequency of Luminal A breast cancer (25.4% and 33.6% in blacks vs 42.8% and 52.1% in whites; younger and older, respectively). All other subtype frequencies were higher in black women (case-only odds ratio [OR] = 3.11, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.22 to 4.37, for Basal-like; OR = 1.45, 95% CI = 1.02 to 2.06, for Luminal B; OR = 2.04, 95% CI = 1.33 to 3.13, for HER2-enriched). Among clinically HR+/HER2- cases, Luminal A subtype was less common and ROR scores were statistically significantly higher among black women.


Multigene assays highlight racial disparities in tumor subtype distribution that persist even in clinically defined subgroups. Differences in tumor biology (eg, HER2-enriched status) may be targetable to reduce disparities among clinically ER+/HER2- cases.

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