Cancer researchers begin large, long-term study of black women

The American Cancer Society has launched an ambitious, far-reaching study focusing on a population that has long been overlooked, despite high rates of cancer and cancer-related deaths: Black women.

The initiative, called VOICES of Black Women, is believed to be the first long-term, zero-target population study specifically on the factors that drive cancer prevalence and death among Black women.

The researchers plan to enroll 100,000 cancer-free black women, ages 25 to 55, in Washington, D.C. and 20 states where the majority of black American women reside. Subjects will be interviewed twice a year about their behaviors, environmental exposures and life experiences, and followed for 30 years; any tumors they may develop will be monitored.

Similar studies conducted in the past by the American Cancer Society have provided key lessons about the causes of cancer, such as identifying cigarette smoking as a cause of lung cancer and linking consumption of red and processed meat to an increased risk of colon cancer .

While some previous studies have included large numbers of Black women, the research has not been able to “focus on cancer-specific factors in that population,” said Dr. Alpa Patel, senior vice president of population sciences at the company and co. -principal investigator of the VOICES study, together with Dr. Lauren McCullough.

“In general population studies, we tend to ask questions that will be applicable to the majority of the population,” he said. “So delving into the lived experiences of discrimination, bias, systemic problems, environmental influences, and cultural aspects of health behaviors, and how the narratives around them are shaped in different populations – those kinds of unique aspects of understanding what contribute to cancer in a population that wasn't asked about.”

The women will be interviewed about their use of personal care products, for example, including chemical hair straighteners, which have been implicated in some cancers. Researchers will monitor stressors related to the physical environment and factors such as neighborhood walkability, crime, air pollution, access to healthy food, and proximity to liquor stores and establishments that sell cigarettes.

Black women have the highest mortality rates and lowest survival rates for many cancers of any racial or ethnic group. For example, black men and women have higher rates of colorectal cancer than white Americans.

Black women die from uterine cancer at twice the rate of white women, are twice as likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer, and more than twice as likely to die from it. They are also 40% more likely to die from breast cancer.

Persistently high mortality rates among black breast cancer patients were one of the reasons cited recently by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for lowering the age to begin mammography screening from 50 to 40.

Racial disparities in breast cancer survival are relatively new. Until the 1970s, there was no racial disparity in breast cancer outcomes between black and white women, Dr. Patel said.

“We now know that there are more aggressive cancers, especially at younger ages in black women compared to white women, and we don't fully understand why,” she said.

Recruitment for the study began late last year with a pilot launch in Atlanta and Hampton Roads, Virginia, and enrollment expanded to other states and Washington in May.

Eligible participants must identify as Black, be assigned female at birth or identify as female, have no history of cancer (other than common basal or squamous skin cancers), and be between the ages of 25 and 55.

No drugs, clinical tests, treatments or lifestyle changes are necessary in the study.

Breana Berry, 30, who works in public health near Atlanta, signed up as soon as she could, as did her mother, Jacquelyn Berry, 53, who cares for a friend with breast cancer and has lost her husband due to pancreatic cancer three years ago. she does, when she was 53 years old.

“My husband has been complaining of stomach problems for two years and has been misdiagnosed, misdiagnosed and misdiagnosed,” she said. He died shortly after receiving the correct diagnosis, which was advanced pancreatic cancer.

“I'm interested in the whys,” he said. “Why are there such huge disparities? This is not an overnight study, you have to follow people for a long time. It's a huge commitment, but I'm up for it. I know our voices will make a difference for my great-grandchildren.”

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