The Contribution of Race to Breast Tumor Microenvironment Composition and Disease Progression

Gina Kim, Jessica M. Pastoriza, John S. Condeelis, Joseph A. Sparano, Panagiota S. Filippou, George S. Karagiannis, Maja H. Oktay

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women following skin cancer. Despite overall decrease in breast cancer mortality due to advances in treatment and earlier screening, black patients continue to have 40% higher risk of breast cancer related death compared to white patients. This disparity in outcome persists even when controlled for access to care and stage at presentation and has been attributed to differences in tumor subtypes or gene expression profiles. There is emerging evidence that the tumor microenvironment (TME) may contribute to the racial disparities in outcome as well. Here, we provide a comprehensive review of current literature available regarding race-dependent differences in the TME. Notably, black patients tend to have a higher density of pro-tumorigenic immune cells (e.g., M2 macrophages, regulatory T cells) and microvasculature. Although immune cells are classically thought to be anti-tumorigenic, increase in M2 macrophages and angiogenesis may lead to a paradoxical increase in metastasis by forming doorways of tumor cell intravasation called tumor microenvironment of metastasis (TMEM). Furthermore, black patients also have higher serum levels of inflammatory cytokines, which provide a positive feedback loop in creating a pro-metastatic TME. Lastly, we propose that the higher density of immune cells and angiogenesis observed in the TME of black patients may be a result of evolutionary selection for a more robust immune response in patients of African geographic ancestry. Better understanding of race-dependent differences in the TME will aid in overcoming the racial disparity in breast cancer mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1022
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
StatePublished - Jun 30 2020


  • breast cancer
  • breast cancer outcome
  • breast cancer racial disparity
  • tumor microenvironment
  • tumor microenvironment of metastasis (TMEM)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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