Dana-Farber researchers launch new project to investigate how neighborhoods contribute to prostate cancer inequity

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Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Rutgers University Cancer Institute are investigating what it is about neighborhoods that may increase a Black man’s risk of dying from prostate cancer. The project has been awarded $391,299 worth of funding as part of the charity Prostate Cancer Research’s racial disparities research program aimed at addressing the health inequities in prostate cancer faced by Black men.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men in the US and it disproportionately affects the African-American community, with African-American men more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as white men.

Timothy Rebbeck, PhD, of the Division of Population Sciences, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Director, Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Hari Iyer, ScD of Rutgers University Cancer Institute will leverage two new national datasets to learn more about features of neighborhoods that could be used to identify where people are at greater risk of prostate cancer. They will then correlate what they find with known barriers that prevent African-American men from accessing the PSA blood test which is used to diagnose prostate cancer. Ultimately, they hope to design and simulate interventions that could inform policymakers not only what to do to reduce the prostate cancer racial inequity, but also could tell us which areas most urgently need to be targeted.

“We are extremely grateful for this award from PCR to pursue our study on how neighborhood environments and geographic access to prostate specific antigen screening impact racial disparities in prostate cancer mortality,” said Iyer. “Using nation-wide cancer registry and patient survey databases will allow us to identify generalizable predictors of screening use and survival, while also allowing us to dig deeper into the local neighborhood, behavioral, and sociodemographic characteristics that influence access and risk of prostate cancer in Black men. Study findings will inform the development of equity-oriented health care delivery interventions to reduce excess mortality among Black men with prostate cancer," Rebbeck explained.

“When we think about people accessing diagnosis and care, we tend to target interventions at the individual,” Dr. Naomi Elster, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer Research, explains. “If only this person knew more, did more. But it’s much more complex than that and where we live can hugely affect our health in ways we can’t, as individuals, always control. There’s already evidence that factors like green space and night-time light levels have real impact on us. It’s absolutely critical that more work like Dr Iyer’s and Prof Rebbeck’s is done, to tell us what big changes we need to make at societal and neighborhood level to safeguard our health.”

Prostate Cancer Research has committed to funding at least three rounds of targeted projects which will explore solutions to the racial disparity within prostate cancer over the next three years. As a UK charity, they have quintupled their research portfolio in four years, navigated the coronavirus pandemic and multiple lockdowns without having to cut a single research budget or project, and have been shortlisted for a major impact award for their work in connecting scientists to patients. This is their first US-based project and they plan to actively expand their work in the US, funding researchers on both sides of the Atlantic to amplify their impact for patients globally.

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