1. Gallagher, Amy

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African Americans face a higher burden from cancer compared to other racial/ethnic groups in the U.S., and an even greater obstacle to cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and survival. This profound statement from the American Cancer Society (ACS) also identified the Black population as experiencing the shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group for most cancers in the U.S.

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In recognition of February's Black History Month, the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, presented the virtual community event, "Cancer in the Black Community: A Research Update," highlighting the scientific advancements of health disparities research in ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancers, and the impact on the Black population. The event featured research funded by the George Edgecomb Society (GES), a group of local community leaders who partnered with Moffitt to fund research to address cancer disparities in the Black community


The event was jointly hosted with the GES, Moffitt Diversity, and the Office of Community Outreach, Engagement and Equity where Susan Vadaparampil, PhD, MPH, serves as Associate Center Director. "More innovative collaborations and partnerships like these are greatly needed to reduce the cancer burden in the Black community," she stressed.


"Innovative collaborations in a variety of shapes and sizes, we need them all," Vadaparampil noted. "Moffitt builds internal and external collaborations with a strong emphasis on team science. By working with other academic centers, community, or industry partners, we are able to create synergy around shared ideas that reduce cancer disparities. We have researchers in every scientific discipline who recognize that working together is the best way to conduct impactful research for the communities we serve," she said.


While collaborations are greatly needed, there remains systemically persistent issues driving disproportionate cancer incidence and death rates for the Black community that require greater focus.


"These health disparities represent the intersection of biology and many other factors that contribute to the unequal burden of cancer in the Black community," said Vadaparampil. "Biology is an important component, but we must also consider the larger context of the social determinants of health, which requires us to understand the day-to-day experiences of communities that contribute to the disparity of health care. Today, we only understand part of the story."


Based on the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) 2020 Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer issued by NCI and ACS, the incidence in new cases of cancer in Blacks is leveling off.


"As a whole, however, Blacks still endure health disparities," she said. "Research shows that certain minority groups do not experience the same levels of health and well-being as the nation overall. These are the communities we need to make sure we are prioritizing for our research efforts."


Health Disparities in Subgroups

The Moffitt Cancer Center research showed that Blacks/African Americans face health disparities in cancer, in addition to higher rates of incidence and mortality from certain cancers, including prostate cancer. Cancer death rates in Black men are twice as high as in Asians and Pacific Islanders, who have the lowest rates, based on ACS data.


While survival rates in ovarian cancer are low overall , survival rates for Blacks are lower than Whites, Vadaparampil noted. "One of our researchers is examining the role that certain genetic mutations play in ovarian cancer risk in Black women," she said. "For both ovarian and pancreatic cancer, the incidence rates are actually higher in Whites than Blacks. However, when you look at the death rates, it's a different story. While Blacks are less likely to develop these cancers, death rates are similar to or higher than what we see in Whites."


In prostate cancer, Black men are more likely to develop prostate cancer and die as a result compared to White men, she said. "Prostate cancer death rates in Black men are more than double those of every other racial/ethnic group. An ongoing series of studies at Moffitt looks at how immune responses in Black men impact their response to certain therapies."


Learning From the Local Community

"One of the things we see as a cancer center is that national trends are often also reflected locally," Vadaparampil said. "The Black communities served by Moffitt have higher mortality rates of prostate and pancreatic cancers. This kind of data helps us to decide what we should focus on at our center."


Hosting community events is one way Moffitt ensures research is driven by the needs and preferences of the Black community.


"While local events allow us the opportunities to share our research progress within our community, it also provides a forum for us [Moffitt] to listen and learn about areas that are important to those we serve, and generates ideas for how to improve our reach and impact in the community," Vadaparampil noted.


During the virtual event's breakout sessions, the community had many questions for Moffitt experts on the role of issues such as genetic risk and cancer, and clinical trials.


"This valuable insight from the community helps to guide Moffitt's future research," she said. "At the same time, feedback from our communities helps us identify the gaps to provide more education and services."


This type of bidirectional engagement is the purpose for Moffitt's Office of Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity. "Taking innovative ideas that are based on engagement with our community and moving forward with solutions to benefit all patients is a key strategy of ensuring progress," Vadaparampil concluded.


Amy Gallagher is a contributing writer.