Southern Community Cohort Study

Cancer is the leading cause of death among Americans aged 40-79. Certain groups, such as African Americans, the poor, or those living in particular geographical areas, experience a disproportionately high burden of cancer for reasons that are only partly understood. This burden includes having a higher probability of getting cancer or a higher chance of dying from cancer once diagnosed. These types of health disparities could have many causes—some rooted in environmental exposures within and beyond one's control and some biologically or genetically based. It is likely that a combination of factors is involved and that the reasons for differing cancer burdens vary for each type of cancer.

The Southern Community Cohort Study (SCCS), funded by the National Cancer Institute and initiated in 2001, was established to address many unresolved questions about the root causes of cancer health disparities, with its findings expected to help prevent and reduce the burden of cancer among all populations. This prospective cohort study of approximately 86,000 adults in the southeastern United States has one of the highest representations of African Americans (two-thirds) among existing U.S. cohorts and a large biorepository poised to address scientific questions about the causes of both common and rare cancers (as well as of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease).

The SCCS is conducted by a collaborative team of scientists at Vanderbilt University, Meharry MedicalCollege, and the International Epidemiology Institute. Outside scientific collaborations are welcome and encouraged.

Particularly related to lung, prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer, the Cohort's research is focused upon:

  • Vitamin D, an important hormone created in the body from sunshine exposure that has been linked to lowered risk of various cancers and other diseases
  • Inflammation, a normal and important immune system function that, when chronic, may provide an enhanced setting for cancer development
  • Energy balance, factors such as physical activity, diet, and obesity, which may be related to cancer through various mechanisms
  • Diet, which, with its numerous and varied components, holds promise to identify readily modifiable risk factors for cancer
  • Tobacco carcinogens, which we may metabolize differently, explaining the differences in lung cancer rates associated with smoking
  • Genetic propensity, which will be examined both through genes involved in key exposure pathways as well as those identified through ongoing genome-wide scans
  • Health services utilization, including cancer screening practices, which impact how and when cancers are diagnosed and the subsequent prognosis

Read more about the projects and partnerships of the Southern Community Cohort Study at