October 11, 2017
Research training programs to address cancer disparities among minorities
BY Clayton R. Boldt, Ph.D.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., and will claim the lives of an estimated 600,920 in this country in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society. While the disease impacts all races and ethnicities, it doesn’t do so equally.
For example, African-Americans have the highest mortality rates and shortest survival of any ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers. In contrast, Hispanics and Latinos have low cancer rates overall, but higher than normal rates of cancers caused by infection, such as liver, stomach and cervical. Both groups are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages than whites, when treatment is less effective.
Knowing this, Lorna McNeill, Ph.D., chair of Health Disparities Research, is leading her team of researchers to better understand the underlying reasons for cancer disparities and implement evidence-based actions to ultimately eliminate them. Two recent grant awards, from the National Cancer Institute and Susan G. Komen Foundation, will help McNeill work toward that goal by establishing programs to educate and train future health disparities researchers.
“Cancer disparities are caused by a complex set of biological, socioeconomic and cultural factors that are not entirely understood,” says McNeill. “Therefore, it is critical for us to continue building a workforce dedicated to health disparities research, so that we might reduce the uneven burden of cancer in certain populations.”
From the National Cancer Institute, McNeill was awarded more than $890,000 over four years to establish U-HAND, a research and educational partnership between MD Anderson and the University of Houston. This program is designed to stimulate collaborative cancer disparities research related to tobacco use, poor diet and physical inactivity – leading preventable causes of cancer – in African-American and Hispanic populations.
The goals of the program include increasing the number of underrepresented racial/ethnic minority students and faculty engaged in cancer disparities research, and developing a robust community outreach program focused on cancer disparities education, clinical trial participation and the provision of tangible services to reduce cancer-related disparities.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation has awarded McNeill and her team with $400,000 over three years to implement the MD Anderson Training Program to Reduce Breast Cancer Disparities in Black and Hispanic Women.
Breast cancer mortality rates are higher in black women compared to white women, despite having lower incidence rates overall. Among Hispanic women, breast cancer incidence rates are lower, but barriers to screening have been documented, and diagnoses tend to occur at later stages.
Together with Kelly Hunt, M.D., chair of Breast Surgical Oncology, McNeill will establish the training program for graduate-level students interested in breast cancer disparities in these populations. Coursework and research projects will focus on understanding how social and environmental factors, as well as biological differences, contribute to differential disease burdens in these groups. Those efforts will be combined with interactive community-based and clinical breast cancer experiences to develop strategies to reduce disparities through behavioral interventions, education and community services.
“We are excited to have the opportunity to launch two programs with tremendous potential to expand our efforts in the field of cancer disparities,” says McNeill. “As we move forward with these programs, we look forward to seeing how our trainees and future disparities researchers are able to make significant research advances to ultimately eliminate these differences.”
Both programs will launch in 2018, with applications for interested trainees expected to open in the spring. For more information, please contact Crystal Roberson at firstname.lastname@example.org.