NIH studies cancer in African Americans

BETHESDA – The National Institutes of Health has launched a study to examine incidence rates among African-American cancer survivors.

“What we saw was that African-Americans were experiencing higher cancer incidents than any other racial/ethnic group,” said Dr. Joanne Elena, a program director overseeing the study at NIH’s National Cancer Institute.

Elena explained the study looks into a variety of social, economic and medical factors and will focus on lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.

Among the factors are treatment, coexisting diseases, genetics, social structure, poverty, stress, quality of life and personal habits such as diet, alcohol and drug use.

“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,” said Dr. Robert Croyle, director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.

“Our goal is to better understand these factors,” Elena added.

Candidates for the study are vetted from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program, a registry of cancer survivors in Detroit.

Elena said that Detroit was chosen due to its large African-American population.

The study includes 5,560 cancer survivors with an additional 2,780 family members from the three countries that comprise the Detroit metropolitan area.

Participants qualify through predetermined criteria based on medical records. Family members are studied to examine any potential family history or genetic factors leading to cancer diagnosis.

During the study, participants are interviewed and submit biological specimens for analysis.

According to Elena, the study is the first of its kind among the African-American community and the first to study factors in cancer incidence among any demographic group. “There have been smaller studies like this, but ours looks into all the same factors in the same demographic group,” she added.

“We hope the study reveals the factors that would predict such information,” said Elena. She explained that if, for example, a lack of physical activity was one of the factors indicating a higher incidence of cancer, then encouraging lifestyle changes could be a future preventive method.

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate and breast cancer are the most common forms of cancer among African-American men and women respectively. The organization also estimates that African-Americans have a higher lifetime probably of developing colorectal and prostate cancer over non-Hispanic whites.



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