Dr. Helen Swede, PhD

University of Connecticut Health Center

Sickle Cell Trait and Survival Disparity in Breast Cancer

Awarded $50,000

About this Project:  

It has been long-recognized that, in Connecticut and nationally, African-American women with breast cancer are much more likely to die from their disease compared to women of European ancestry.  About 8.3% (2.5 million) of African-Americans are estimated to be Sickle Cell Trait (SCT) carriers compared to 0.05% of whites, which prompts the question if sickling-related events among cancer patients might explain, in part, sustained survival disparities.  Certain physiological stressors can trigger sickling of red blood cells (RBCs) in SCT and sickle cell disease (SCD).  Several recent case reports described sickling-related adverse events in cancer patients undergoing the rigors of chemotherapy (n=10 SCD, n=2 SCT).  As no systematic studies have appeared in the literature to date, our primary aim is to construct the first investigation of multiple breast cancer cases into a single analysis derived from large national databases.  Our second aim is to draft a grant proposal to the National Cancer Institute or American Cancer Society to study the prognostic role SCT in breast cancer patients through partnerships with large-scale existing studies.  Our third aim is to examine the response of RBCs, extracted from persons with SCT or SCD, to the administration of chemo-therapeutic agents used in breast cancer treatment.  Future application of our findings could include genetic screening of newly diagnosed cancer patients given that most African-Americans are unaware of their SCT status.