Large Study Aims to Improve Cancer Survival Among African Americans

Researchers will investigate factors that may contribute to poor cancer outcomes among African Americans.

While African Americans are more likely to be affected by cancer and other diseases, they are largely underrepresented in clinical trials and other studies.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently launched a new study that will analyze factors affecting cancer progression, recurrence, mortality, and quality of life among 5560 African American cancer survivors, according to a press release.

A grant of $9 million over 5 years has been awarded to Ann G. Schwartz, PhD, MPH, deputy center director, and Terrance Albrecht, PhD, associate director for Population Sciences of the Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

African Americans have been observed to develop disproportionately higher rates of cancers compared with other racial and ethnic groups. African American patients are also more likely to be diagnosed with advanced disease and have higher mortality compared with other groups, the National Institutes of Health reported.

The newly-launched Detroit Research on Cancer Survivors (ROCS) study will concentrate on disparities seen with lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers, since African American patients have diminished survival rates compared with whites.

“This study is uniquely poised to investigate the major factors affecting African-American cancer survivors,” said Douglas R. Lowy, MD, acting director of NCI. “Efforts like this will help us move toward bridging the gap of cancer disparities, ensuring that advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment reach all Americans.”

While many other studies have aimed to discover the factors that drive poor survival among African American patients with cancer, previous findings lack an expansive study participation.

The new study will investigate how factors may affect survival, including treatment type, comorbidities, genetics, social structure, support, neighborhood, poverty, stress, discrimination, literacy, quality of life, smoking, alcohol use, diet, and physical activity, according to the press release.

Additionally, the Detroit ROCS study will also include 2780 family members to better determine how a cancer diagnosis can impact the mental, physical, and financial wellbeing of family caretakers.

“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 Robert Croyle, PhD, director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS). “And our hope is that this knowledge will lead to better outcomes.”

The study will gather data from interviews, medical records, and biospecimens among patients in 3 counties located near Detroit. These counties account for more than 70% of Michigan’s African American population, and there are 21,000 newly-diagnosed cancers there each year, according to the press release.

The study will also use the Detroit area population-based cancer registry, which helps identify new cases of cancer, and is a part of the NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program.

The investigators hope that the new study can provide cancer statistics to further improve understanding about what drives cancer in African Americans and develop effective prevention and treatment options.

“Detroit ROCS’ use of the SEER Program is a great example of an efficient use of an existing structure to rapidly recruit cancer survivors into research studies,” said Joanne Elena, PhD, MPH, scientific program director for this grant in DCCPS’s Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program. “There is still much to understand about the poorer outcomes experienced by African-American cancer survivors. We hope that information collected in the Detroit ROCS study will facilitate research that explains the interaction among environmental, genomic, social, and behavioral factors in this understudied population and ultimately identify ways for cancer survivors to live healthier lives.”