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Massey joins new consortium to fight racial inequities in lung cancer

A grant from Stand Up To Cancer will help improve screening, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer in the Black community.

Doctor looking at lung X-ray Photo: Getty Images

VCU Massey Cancer Center is teaming up with MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to help reduce lung cancer disparities affecting Black Americans.

Funded by a four-year, $3 million grant from Stand Up to Cancer,  the new Southeastern Consortium for Lung Cancer Health Equity will address deeply ingrained social determinants of health that contribute to a higher burden of lung cancer in Black communities across Virginia and the Carolinas — areas that lie in the heart of America’s tobacco-producing region and are among the states with the highest concentration of Black residents. 

Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by social determinants of health, which can increase their risk for smoking and limit their access to lung cancer screening and care.

“For this project, we will work with our partners to set up a sustainable research and outreach infrastructure in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina to ensure that our communities continue to reap the benefits of these efforts for years to come, not just for the duration of this particular grant,” said team leader Robert Winn, M.D., director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at VCU Massey, senior associate dean for cancer innovation and a professor of pulmonary disease and critical care medicine at the VCU School of Medicine.

As part of the project, each of the three centers will partner with their local federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) — community clinics that receive special funding from the federal government to provide primary care in underserved areas. Massey will partner with the Capital Area Health Network and Vernon Harris FQHC in Richmond.

Community navigators within the FQHCs and nurse and financial navigators within the cancer centers will guide patients through lung cancer screening by providing education and support. These teams of navigators aim to remove the variety of barriers that underserved patients face.

“Lung cancer screening has the potential to reduce lung cancer mortality and close the disparities gap,” said Louise Henderson, Ph.D., the team’s principal investigator and program leader of cancer epidemiology at UNC Lineberger.

The second part of the project will involve pooling patient sample repositories across the three cancer centers to create the largest collection of curated clinical data and biospecimens from Black Americans at risk for or diagnosed with lung cancer.

Existing biobanks are sorely lacking on racial diversity, which in turn hampers clinicians’ ability to take their patients’ race into account when determining the best prevention or treatment plan.

"We have designed a project that is truly translational by combining basic science and community outreach approaches,” said Marvella Ford, Ph.D., team co-leader and associate director of cancer disparities at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. “I think it is important for states that are facing similar disparities to unite and come together to develop this consortium that gives us more leverage than we would have individually. We’re all facing the same battle, but we can fight it much better together.”

The Stand Up to Cancer grant was made possible by the support of Bristol Myers Squibb.

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