Meharry, Vanderbilt to Fund Study of Cancer Among Blacks
A $22 million grant announced last month for researchers at Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Institute will fund a multistate study to explain why Blacks die of cancer at disproportionately high rates.
The five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute will be used for the “Southern Community Cohort Study,” in which 105,000 participants — two-thirds of them Black — from six southeastern states will be tracked to identify genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that contribute to cancer development.
“The health disparities between African Americans and other groups are well known, but we simply do not understand why they exist,” says Dr. Harry R. Johnson, vice chancellor of health affairs for Meharry.
“Such population-based, long-term studies are the gold standard for addressing these kinds of questions, yet no one has ever targeted African Americans in a study like this,” he says.
According to the American Cancer Society, Black men are more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than men of other ethnic groups, while Black women are more likely to die of breast and colorectal cancer than are White women.
“What excites me about the study is that we will finally get at the ‘why’ questions implicit in health disparities,” says Meharry Medical College President John E. Maupin Jr.
A cohort study typically consists of large numbers of people who are tracked over many years. In this case, participants will be monitored for development of cancer over an undetermined number of years.
Also, researchers hope the study will determine why the Southeast in general has some of the highest rates of cancer in the United States.
“By determining why African Americans have higher rates of most forms of cancer, we hope to be able to develop prevention strategies to lower the rates of cancer not only among Blacks, but among all racial groups,” says researcher William Blot of Vanderbilt-Ingram.
Study enrollment is expected to begin in early spring in Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida, with random telephone samples beginning in 2004. Participants must be 40 to 79 years old, not currently diagnosed with or under treatment for a terminal illness and willing to be contacted in the future.
Vanderbilt-Ingram is the only center in Tennessee designated by the National Cancer Institute as a “comprehensive cancer center,” and one of only 41 nationwide. Meharry Medical College is the nation’s largest private, historically Black institution exclusively dedicated to educating medical professionals and biomedical scientists.
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