According to the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, combined cancer deaths exceed cardiovascular diseases-related deaths in the United States. In both men and women, lung cancer still remains the leading cause of cancer death. Prostate cancer and breast cancer account for the second highest cause of cancer deaths in men and women, respectively.

Cancer cellsUnfortunately, African Americans suffer disproportionately from the burden of cancer incidence and cancer deaths in the United States, having the lowest five-year survival rates for lung, prostate, breast, colorectal and ovarian cancers. The trend is nearly identical in colon, lung and ovarian cancers. While we don’t fully understand the causes for the alarming cancer health disparities, multiple factors including biological, genetics, environment, nutrition, education status, socio-economics factors and lack of access may play vital roles.

Meharry Medical College has partnered with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) and, most recently, with Tennessee State University (TSU) in an effort to address some of the causes of the high incidence of cancer among minorities, as well as develop strategies to reduce cancer health disparities in Tennessee. Using cancer partnership research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), we have successfully developed strong infrastructure for cancer patient care and cancer research in areas of basic sciences, population, clinical and translational research. We have also expanded education and training in cancer research at Meharry.

Our successes in these endeavors have enabled us to enhance our ability to provide oncology patient care while significantly enhancing recruitment of African Americans and other minorities into nationally approved oncology clinical trials. We have established a tissue acquisition core to enhance collection, banking and usage of critically needed tissues from cancer patients for research. Thus, we will be able to identify new biomarkers for cancer diagnosis as well as contribute to our understanding of the biological basis for cancer and cancer disparities.