Over 200 people attended the first Cancer Health Disparities Interest Group Research Symposium on October 18th

Not all segments of the U.S. population have equally benefited from the advances in our knowledge and treatment of cancer. As a result, minority, immigrant and financially disadvantaged populations continue to experience an excessive cancer burden. The causes of these disparities are multifaceted and may include tumor biological and genetic factors, exposure to carcinogens and pathogens as well as social determinants, barriers in access to health care and cultural barriers. There are a growing number of investigators, scientists and fellows at NIH from the basic, translational, epidemiological and behavioral disciplines who are working in this field. The Cancer Health Disparities Interest Group was formed almost one year ago with the primary goal of bringing this community of researchers together.

On October 18, 2016, the group held its first research symposium in Building 35 and presented recent advances in our understanding of the causes of cancer health disparities. The meeting was supported by the Center for Cancer Research. Dr. Michelle Bennett, Director of the Center for Research Strategy, opened the meeting with a comprehensive overview of the NCI’s current initiatives and investments in cancer health disparity research, including the recent Cancer Moonshot. Dr. Eliseo Perez-Stable, Director of NIMHD, delivered a key seminar highlighting the importance of social determinants as a root cause of health disparities and Dr. Ann Geiger, Chief of the Healthcare Assessment Research Branch in the Healthcare Delivery Research Program at DCCPS, spoke of the evolving importance of cancer survivorship within the context of health disparities. Dr. Yousef Zafar of Duke University described the financial harm of cancer care costs and its detrimental effect on the quality of life and survival of cancer patients in his seminar.

Several of the speakers also spoke to how biology, genetics and the environment can contribute to disparities both in incidence and survival and gave examples for several cancer sites. Dr. Ann Schwartz of Wayne State University shared her research on the recent advances they have made in identifying new driver mutations in lung cancer in African Americans while Dr. Stephen O’Keefe from the University of Pittsburgh explained how altering diet in high-risk African Americans produces immediate effects on the metabolic phenotype of the colon, which he could also associate with reciprocal mucosal biomarkers of cancer risk. Dr. Clayton Yates from Tuskegee University described dysregulated EGFR/Kaiso signaling in prostate cancer as a disease driver and potential contributor to the excessive disease burden among African American men. Dr. Kevin Cullen of the University of Maryland highlighted his research on racial disparities in head and neck cancer and how the incidence of HPV-positive tumors is significantly lower in African Americans, which rather unexpectedly contributes to the worse outcomes observed in this population. Dr. Victoria Seewaldt from City of Hope shared her research that links imprinting to heavy metal exposure and cancer, while NCI alum, Dr. Ola Landgren, who now works at Memorial Sloan Kettering, closed the meeting with a discussion of disparities in multiple myeloma, tracing their origin across the natural history of the disease.

The meeting attracted over 200 registrants, a third of whom came from the extramural community. In addition to welcoming NIH fellows, clinicians, researchers and staff from across the NIH, we were also delighted to welcome the NIH Academy Fellows. There was an excellent poster session as well as two short talks from Dr. Megan Roberts and Dr. Maya Lodish.

The meeting highlighted two important themes. The first is that the causes of cancer health disparities are multi-faceted and the approaches needed to understand and overcome them are multi-disciplinary. The second is that there is a bolus of scientists across the NIH research community who are interested in and working across the breadth of cancer health disparity disciplines. We hope the Cancer Health Disparities Interest Group and its activities will serve to foster and grow this nested research community and build awareness and collaborations.

Those interested in joining the interest group can sign up at this link. We welcome all participation and look forward to hosting the second Research Symposium in 2017.


Summary Posted: 10/2016