The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Prostate Cancer Foundation launched a $26.5 million large-scale, multi-institutional study to assess how biological and social factors could be associated with aggressive prostate cancer in African-American men.
Black men in the U.S. have about a 15 percent chance of developing prostate cancer during their lifetime — 5 percent more than white men — and are also more likely to experience an aggressive form of the disease when compared to men of other racial and ethnic groups.
Even more troubling, the risk of dying from prostate cancer in African-American men is double compared to that of Caucasian men.
Now, researchers want to understand why these disparities exist and the best way to address them.
“No group in the world is hit harder by prostate cancer than men of African descent, and to date, little is known about the biological reasons for these disparities, or the full impact of environmental factors,” Jonathan W. Simons, MD, president and CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), said in a press release.
“We celebrate our partnership and applaud NIH for spearheading this study, which we believe will help pave the way for groundbreaking discoveries that will improve health equity for African-American men and their families,” he added.
The RESPOND study aims to investigate how environmental social stressors and genetic factors could be related to aggressive prostate cancer in African-American men.
The study is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) — both entities of the NIH — as well as by the PCF.
Investigators hope to enroll a total of 10,000 African-American men with prostate cancer for the RESPOND study starting this September.
First, they will analyze possible relationships between disease aggressiveness and social factors, such as discrimination, early-life adversity, socioeconomic status, education, and segregation, which will be assessed via online surveys.
In addition, men enrolled in the study will also be asked to provide a saliva sample and to grant permission for researchers to collect tissue biopsies from their tumors. These samples will be used to identify gene variants that could be directly associated with the aggressive form of the disease.
Once researchers have identified the genetic alterations associated with aggressive prostate cancer, their goal is to explore how patients’ social environment interacts with these genetic changes.
“Previous research on prostate cancer disparities has investigated social and genetic factors separately, but we know these components interact with each other to contribute to disparities,” explained Damali Martin, PhD, program director for the study in the NCI’s Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program.
“The ability to integrate genetic and environmental factors, including individual, neighborhood, and societal factors, into one large study will enable us to have a better understanding of how all of these factors contribute to the aggressiveness of prostate cancer,” she added.