Lincoln, a historically Black university in Pennsylvania, is collaborating with several medical institutions to investigate the prevalence of colorectal cancer among residents in northeastern Pennsylvania. The study is part of Lincoln’s long-term goal to identify specific risk factors that make Blacks across the country more prone to the disease.
As part of the four-year, $4.2 million grant, Lincoln will pair up with the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine; Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa.; and the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute in Scranton, Pa.
Colorectal cancer — cancer of the colon or rectum — is the second-most deadly form of cancer and the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the nation, researchers say. In 2003, the last year for which data is available, almost 60,000 people died from colorectal cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thousands of those victims were Black. But medical officials hope to use the Lincoln study as a tool in educating people about early detection and prevention.
“The more screening we can do early on, the better we are in reducing colorectal cancer,” says Lincoln’s principal investigator, Dr. Delroy M. Louden, a professor of psychology. “People should have a sense of their family history and commit to early screenings to understand what may be going on. [Black Americans’] diet tends to be high in fat content and high in salt content. And in the African-American population, we tend not to go to early screenings to understand what is happening.”
Louden will work closely with two faculty members from Lincoln’s biology department — Drs. Anna Hull and Karen Baskerville — during the research project.
The Lincoln research study will focus on northeastern sections of Pennsylvania where researchers have noted elevated levels of colorectal cancer. While this region of the state is mostly inhabited by people of Eastern European ancestry, medical researchers hope that the study will provide clues of any specific risk factors or genetic defects people of varied ethnicities share in developing the disease.
“Specifically we are looking at diet and dietary mutagens, particularly in highly cooked meats,” says Dr. Joshua E. Muscat, a professor of public health sciences at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine who is participating with Lincoln’s study. “We are looking at the relationship between diet and genes simultaneously in relation to cancer risk.”
As part of the study, officials at Penn State will use various cancer registries to identify individuals who have recently developed colorectal cancer, Muscat says. Those who anonymously choose to participate in the study will allow researchers to gather personal information concerning dietary habits, alcohol consumption and cigarette usage. DNA will then be extracted from participants via a cheek sampling method, Muscat says. Researchers will then compare data collected from those who have colorectal cancer with data from those who don’t have the disease.
“We will be able to see what it is that they are eating and be able to look at this to see why people have developed this cancer and why others haven’t,” says Muscat, adding that graduate students at Penn State will help in developing dietary questionnaires and other nutritional assessment techniques for the study.
According to Louden, Lincoln will use a portion of its grant to provide internships for qualified students who want to learn about research techniques in molecular genetics and cancer epidemiology. Lincoln officials also have plans to incorporate their research findings into informational literature to encourage family screening in the Black community.
“With early intervention and treatment one can have better outcomes in terms of the quality of life one is able to have,” Louden says.
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