(Blend Images/ERproduction Ltd.)

(Blend Images/ERproduction Ltd.)

There’s a silver lining in new cancer research on how black women’s tumors respond to treatment.

The cancer cells of black women have a stronger survival mechanism than those of white women, which decreases sensitivity to tamoxifen, a top treatment for breast cancer that depends on estrogen to grow, according to a new study from the Georgetown University Medical Center.

The good news is that this discovery is the first clue doctors have about how to find a more effective treatment for black women with estrogen-receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer.

Researchers at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center attribute the reduced sensitivity to the increased activation of the “unfolded protein response,” or UPR.

If anti-cancer treatment activates the UPR in response to stress within a cancer cell, “it can switch on a pro-survival pathway, allowing tumor cells to hunker down and wait out the attack,” Ayesha Shajahan-Haq, Ph.D., an oncology research assistant professor and the study’s lead investigator, explained in a university interview.

“This can lead to increased resistance to common therapies,” Shajahan-Haq added. The study was presented today at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2015.

More than two-thirds of all breast cancers, or about 70 percent, are ER+. They typically require treatment that blocks estrogen from reaching cancer cells, but about 50 percent of treated tumors develop treatment resistance.

Black women who are overweight or obese after menopause have a 31 percent higher risk of ER+ breast cancer, another study shows.

“Our findings offer a partial understanding of racial differences within ER+ breast cancers,” Shajahan-Haq said. “We demonstrate both increased resistance to anti-cancer therapy in African-American patients as well as the reason that resistance occurs.”

“Biology may not be the only factor contributing to the racial disparities in outcome in the general public,” she added. “Factors such as access to mammography, follow-up care or treatment, income status and other social factors have also been shown to contribute to disparities in outcome.”

Fast-Acting Fat

Think you can get away with gorging on fatty foods? All it takes are five days for the fat to attack your muscles, tip the scales and lead to other long-term health problems, according to a new study in the journal Obesity. The takeaway? Eat high-fat foods like macaroni and cheese in moderation.