Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Please, put down the pig!

Do the Knowledge to this article originally posted at

Study focuses on cancer rates among blacks

By Alexia R. Robinson


Until about a month ago, Cynthia Ryan-Harris ate fried food for lunch and dinner almost every day, and she seasoned her vegetables with pork.

Now she broils her fish instead of frying it and seasons her collard greens with smoked turkey instead of ham hocks.

Why the sudden change? Ryan-Harris, an executive assistant at Tallahassee's Bond Clinic, just participated in an unprecedented, 11-state study seeking to determine why black Americans generally develop cancer - and die from it - at a higher rate than other ethnic groups.

Now she and her co-workers are trying to get other Big Bend residents to take part in the study.

For one hour of your time, you can receive $10, and the health benefits could be life-saving.

"It was like a wake-up call," said Ryan-Harris, who is black and will be 50 in December. "It gave me an opportunity to evaluate my lifestyle."

Target number: 100,000

Although Bond's participation began Sept. 12, the Southern Community Cohort Study actually has been under way for three years. It's led by Vanderbilt University, Meharry Medical College and the International Epidemiology Institute.

Overall, researchers hope to survey 100,000 people - two-thirds of them black. Canvassing 11 Southern states, they're calling it the largest-ever health study of black Americans.

"Some of the other studies have not been representing African-Americans well," said Carol McNutt, Bond's research interviewer for the study.

This study is being conducted in the South, she said, because its cancer rates are higher than those in other regions. It's focusing on blacks, she said, because they have higher cancer rates nationwide.

Incidence vs. mortality

According to the American Cancer Society, black Americans have the highest mortality rate of any ethnic group for all cancers combined. This year, the organization estimates, 1.4 million black Americans will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 63,000 will die from it.

In Florida, the picture is different. Youjie Huang, chronic-disease epidemiologist for the state Department of Health, said Florida numbers show a disparity between incidence (who gets cancer) and mortality (who dies from it).

In 2002, the year with the most recent data available, whites were more likely to get cancer while blacks were more likely to die from it, he said. That's a generalization, he noted. The numbers will vary among individual types of cancer.

McNutt said researchers are seeking patterns to explain why blacks might end up with cancer.

"(The study) looks at long-term data to determine which patients might develop cancer and what factors, such as genetics and lifestyle, put them at risk for cancer," she said. "Patients aren't given test results. The samples are sent to Vanderbilt and may not be studied for years to come."

Why Bond?

The Bond Clinic, one of four participating in Florida, will receive $100,000 annually until the study is complete to identify and track participants. The clinic is expected to survey about 80 people a month for the next few years.

"Currently, (researchers at other locations) have interviewed about 43,000 participants, and they hope to continue the study for another two years," McNutt said.

Study leaders focus on community-health centers, she said, because they serve the targeted group.

"Almost 80 percent of our patients are African-Americans, and federally qualified health centers are considered a safe and trusting environment for clinical research and clinical trials," said J.R. Richards, chief operating officer of the Bond Clinic. "This is our first time participating in a study like this, and we're hoping that our participation will somehow impact future generations."

The study includes random follow-up interviews. McNutt said researchers will contact participants periodically to see about changes in their health history.

Ryan-Harris said she hopes that when she receives a follow-up call, she'll have good news. Though she has to use more seasoning now to make her greens taste good, she said, her new diet is worth it.

"The transition has been a little difficult," she said, "but I already feel 100-percent better."

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