Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., and the third leading cause of cancer death. In 2008 close to 50,000 people succumbed to the disease.
But not all groups are affected equally. An American Cancer Society study found that colorectal cancer incidence rates are more than 20% higher for African Americans than Caucasians. Death rates from the disease are 45% higher.
Lifestyle factors, access to healthcare and cultural differences have all been proposed as reasons to explain the racial disparities in colorectal cancer survival. But new research from the University of Alabama, published today in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, shows that for some African Americans, genetics may play a part too.
Researchers analyzed 373 colorectal tumors — 137 taken from African Americans and 236 taken from non-Hispanic Caucasians. They found that African American patients with two Gs at in the p53 gene were 2.15 times more likely to die of colorectal cancer than those with one or no copies of a G at this SNP. In Caucasians there was no association between survival and .
Seventeen percent of African American patients had two Gs at this SNP, while only 7% of Caucasian patients did.
The p53 gene encodes a tumor suppressor protein that protects against cancer, in part, by telling damaged cells to self-destruct instead of turning into tumors. Mutations in the p53 gene that disrupt its function are a common feature of many cancers. (These mutations are distinct from the variation.)
Although the findings will need to be replicated in larger studies, the study’s authors suggest that might be a race-specific prognostic marker for African American patients with colorectal cancers and that someday analysis of this SNP might aid in designing optimal treatment regimens.