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Study to examine prostate cancer rate in African-American men

Dr. Franklin Huang (center) is a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber and an investigator for the new study.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File

The National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday that it is launching a nationwide study on aggressive prostate cancer in African-American men. The study will be one of the first to analyze how social stressors such as discrimination, lack of health care access, and segregation interact with genetic changes in African-American men with prostate cancer.

African-American men have a 15 percent higher likelihood than white men of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and are two to three times more likely to die from the disease.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston is one of four institutions that will be participating in the study, which is being funded by a $26.5 million grant from the NIH and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Investigators aim to enroll 10,000 African-American men with prostate cancer for the research, which begins in September 2018.


Dr. Franklin Huang, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber and an investigator for the new study, spoke with Metro Minute about the disease and goals for the research.

Q. What do we already know about this issue?

A. We know that men of African ancestry have a greater risk of developing prostate cancer. There have been some studies that have identified some genetic variants that seem to confer an increased risk but that doesn’t seem to account for all of the risk so that’s part of what we’re trying to tackle in the study.

Q. What do you hope to learn?

A. I hope that we ideally identify new genetic, social, and environmental risk factors and causes for this aggressive disease in African-American men and that by integrating the data — which hasn’t really been done before — that we can begin to understand the relationships between how environment may shape the disease biology.

Q. How will the study be structured?

A. There’s a questionnaire to assess all the social and economic and environmental neighborhood effects that we’re looking at. But then [participants will] be asked to provide a saliva sample and then also be able to consent to have their tumor sample be released to the study.


Q. What do you think is the greater significance of this study?

A. I’d say that African-American men in general have been under-represented in many of our studies, especially genomic studies and genetic studies. This is an opportunity to really address this health inequity that we see and the increased death rate for black men. This study, given the size and the scope of it, is really designed to address this major health issue in African-American men, but it will also have implications for prostate cancer in general.

For more information about the study and how to participate, visit respondstudy.org.

Sophia Eppolito can be reached at sophia.eppolito@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaEppolito.