In an effort to understand the causes of disproportionate breast cancer outcomes in women, researchers at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine will explore whether and how socioeconomic difficulties affect human biology, leading to a higher cancer risk.

Published Aug 16th, 2019

By Carol McPhail

CMcPhail@health.southalabama.edu

In an effort to understand the causes of disproportionate breast cancer outcomes in women, researchers at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine will explore whether and how socioeconomic difficulties affect human biology, leading to a higher cancer risk.

The study, led by Seema Singh, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology at the USA College of Medicine, is being funded by a five-year grant of more than $3 million from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. The award is one of the largest NIH R01 grants awarded to a cancer researcher based at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute.


“African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and experience greater mortality compared with women of other races,” Singh said. “Differences in socioeconomic status have also long been associated with disparate health outcomes due to a lack of access to healthcare. However, emerging data is now suggesting a biological connection to health disparities, as well.”

Singh hypothesizes that socioeconomic stress affects human biology, especially the immune system, in a way that supports breast tumor development and aggressive progression. This negative impact on health is theorized to be more pronounced in women who are African American.

She said the results could improve the understanding of the involved mechanisms and could lead to innovative strategies for a more accurate prediction of cancer risk, early diagnosis, prevention and/or improved personalized therapies.

“Basic research into the mechanisms and causes of cancer health disparities is significant and will provide new opportunities for the development of cancer prevention and therapeutic approaches,” said Dr. Guillermo Herrera, chair of the pathology department at the USA College of Medicine. “Dr. Singh’s success in securing this NCI funding reflects the importance of this innovative research project.”

Dr. Lynn Dyess, professor of surgery at the USA College of Medicine and a breast surgeon with USA Health, said the project is looking at an aspect of breast cancer and women's health that is often overlooked. She said the findings from this research could have a long-term impact on breast cancer prevention and management.

The research will be conducted in collaboration with scientists and physicians from across USA Health, will collect survey data and blood samples from women, and conduct laboratory studies to establish sociobiological connections.

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