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NCI-Funded Study Hopes to Unveil Disparity Among African American Cancer Survivors

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, PhD
A new grant aims to gather data on thousands of African American cancer survivors to understand factors that influence disease progression, recurrence, mortality, and quality of life.
A multimillion dollar, multiyear grant earned by researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine aims to gather data on thousands of African American cancer survivors to understand factors that influence disease progression, recurrence, mortality, and quality of life.

The Detroit Research on Cancer Survivors (ROCS) study, which has received $9 million in funding support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has targeted enrollment of 5560 survivors. Cancer incidence rates remain disproportionately higher among the black population compared with other racial groups, as does the cancer death rate.

According to the American Cancer Society, the cancer-associated mortality among black males has been steadily decreasing over the years; nonetheless, it remains much higher than white males. The cancer-associated mortality rate among black females is also higher than in white females, although the difference is not as stark as observed in males. Studies have shown that African Americans are typically diagnosed at a much advanced stage of disease, which could be a direct result of lack of access to care or lack of awareness. Being diagnosed late can limit a patient’s likelihood of survival.

ROCS will focus on the most common cancers that have poor survival rates among African Americans: lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. The study aims to focus on all known factors that can influence cancer survival:
  • Type of treatment
  • Comorbidities
  • Genetics
  • Social structure
  • Support
  • Neighborhood in which they live
  • Poverty
  • Stress
  • Racial discrimination
  • Literacy
  • Quality of life
  • Behavioral factors such as smoking, alcohol use, diet, and physical activity
The study authors also plan to include 2780 family caregivers in the study to understand the impact of this devastating disease on the mental, physical, and financial health of the family. Data will be gathered via interviews, from medical records, and through patient biospecimens from 3 counties around Detorit—a city with 21,000 annual cancer diagnoses.

“Investigating the complex factors that lead to disparities in cancer among underserved populations should lead to a greater understanding of the social and biological causes of such differences,” Robert Croyle, PhD, director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, said in a statement. He expressed hope that the ROCS study will help improve outcomes in this population.

 
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