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What are Cancer Disparities and How Are Dana-Farber Researchers Addressing Them?

Addressing the impact of prostate cancer on Black men

Tim Rebbeck, PhD, focuses on the causes and prevention of cancers in which racial disparities are particularly pronounced — including prostate cancer, which has a higher incidence and mortality rate among Black men than white men.

Because prostate cancer is a complex disease, influenced by biology, social influences, and care, Rebbeck and his colleagues look for connections between multiple factors, including genetic and genomic influences on the disease’s onset and progression, with the goal of identifying interventions that will benefit all patients. Rebbeck is a leader of the Men of African Descent and Carcinoma of the Prostate (MADCaP) Network, with involves men of African descent in the U.S. and Africa and aims to better understand the complex causes and influences on prostate cancer among men of African ancestry.

Tim Rebbeck, PhD “While incidence and mortality are both influenced by multiple factors, recent evidence suggests that the development of prostate cancer is influenced in part by genetics and screening, while the death rate is more strongly influenced by influenced by social and economic factors including access to health-care services,” Rebbeck states. “We’re investigating the interplay of these factors to improve outcomes worldwide.”

Recently, Rebbeck helped launch the Precision Care, Interventions, Screening, and Empowerment (PRECISE) Initiative, which is creating a model for identifying populations at increased risk for prostate cancer and tailoring screening recommendations for each group.

“The field of cancer disparities research is at a major inflection point,” Rebbeck says. “We now have good quality research in a variety of areas that provide strong evidence for the sources of disparities. It is clear that there are contributions from genetic and biological influences, social influences, lifestyle, behavior, and access to health care. The next major push in the field is to translate this knowledge into interventions that can begin to eliminate these disparities in the general population. This work will require we know when, how, and in whom we can intervene to maximize cancer health equity. Progress will require effective public health interventions as well as policy decisions.”

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