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Grantee Spotlight: Marvella Ford, Ph.D. - Reducing Barriers to Surgical Cancer Care among African Americans with Lung Cancer

January 10, 2014, by CRCHD staff

Marvella Ford, Ph.D.

Two investigators at the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Hollings Cancer Center—Marvella E. Ford (Ph.D.) and Nestor F. Esnaola (M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.), were awarded a five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) R01 grant this past April.

Their research will evaluate the impact of a patient navigation intervention in reducing barriers to surgical cancer care and improving surgical resection rates among African Americans with Stage I-II non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Two hundred African Americans will be recruited from six geographically diverse sites within a southeastern cancer clinical trials network to participate in a two-arm, cluster randomized trial comparing enhanced versus usual care.

While early-stage NSCLC is highly treatable, Ford and Esnaola's research has shown that disparities are still evident. Their 2008 scientific paper in the Annals of Surgery demonstrated that among patients diagnosed with localized NSCLC in South Carolina, African Americans were significantly less likely to undergo surgery compared with European Americans (44.7% versus 63.4%, p < 0.0001). The authors concluded, "After controlling for…sociodemographic, comorbidity, and tumor factors, African American race was found to be a powerful, independent predictor of underuse of surgical resection."

Ford hopes to see better retention of underserved communities in clinical trials and improved patient navigation. This, she hopes, will lead to state-of-the-art care being provided to those communities.

In addition to the R01, Ford received an NIH/NCI P20 grant in 2011, which included South Carolina State University as the partnering minority-serving institution (PI: Dr. Judith D. Salley). The research supported by this grant is one of only a few studies in the U.S. to investigate cancer disparities in South Carolina's Sea Island residents. African Americans from the Sea Islands are the most genetically homogeneous black population in the U.S. They are direct descendants of West Africans, primarily from Sierra Leone. The hope is that Sea Island's black population could hold answers as to why African Americans develop and die from some cancers at a higher rate than European Americans.

The $800,000-plus grant established the South Carolina Cancer Disparities Research Center, with its mission of investigating cancer disparities and training future scientists. Research focuses on breast and prostate cancers, which affect African Americans at markedly disproportionate rates compared to members of other racially/ethnically diverse groups. The study is also exploring whether genetic differences play a role in disparities.

"The more we know about how genetic makeup contributes to cancer onset and progression, the better we will be able to develop drugs targeted toward each person's genetic makeup, which will give us greater ammunition in our cancer-fighting arsenal," Ford said.

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