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The University of Miami School of Medicine will conduct a six-year scientific study on the socio-cultural and biological factors that impact the “quality of life and progression of cancer” among Hispanics in the United States, with the aim of improving diagnosis and treatment.
The ambitious clinical study “Avanzando Caminos (Leading Pathways): The Hispanic/Latino Cancer Survivorship Study” begins its first phase of recruitment of Hispanics diagnosed with cancer next August, and expects to enroll some 3,000 patients based in the cities of San Antonio (Texas) and Miami (Florida) and originating from up to 15 Latin American countries.
A unique study
“We have never had a study of this magnitude. We are going to analyze multiple factors and unknowns to understand the impact on the quality of life and health and the activity” of the disease in Hispanic cancer survivors, Frank J. Penedo, principal investigator of the study and professor at the Miller School of Medicine at UM, told EFE.
Penedo referred to certain factors and “problems” that can accompany the “chronic stress” of Latinos diagnosed with cancer, such as discrimination, the language barrier, anxiety, nutrition or depression, among others, and how they affect them.
The study, in which 16 scientists, including epidemiologists, geneticists, oncologists and psychologists are collaborating, will provide key information to help Latino survivors “recover” and reduce the risk of recurrence of the disease, said the U-M professor of Psychology and Medicine.
With a $9.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the team of researchers led by Penedo will study the impact of these factors on the response to cancer in the “widest possible range of Hispanic” survivors.
Leading cause of death in Hispanics is cancer
Penedo emphasized that this disease is the “leading cause of death among Hispanics,” who make up 18% of the total population and are the largest ethnic minority group in the country.
“Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics, but not among Anglos, especially cervical cancer, although the incidence is lower,” he warned.
Thus, there are “significant disparities in prevalence, invasiveness and mortality in specific cancers” such as cervical, liver and stomach cancer, regardless of where in the country the patient is located.
Compared to non-Hispanic whites, Latinos “are more likely” to present with cancer at an advanced stage, in addition to “poorer quality of life and satisfaction with treatment”.
Among the possible causes of this anomalous situation and of the “gap” with respect to Anglos, Penedo referred to the difficulty that Hispanics have in “being assertive”, in understanding that “the doctor works for the patient” and, therefore, “should be required to explain everything about the diagnosis and treatment.”
The acculturation process also plays a very important role, for better or worse, Penedo said.
While Hispanics’ adoption of the country’s attitudes, values, habits, beliefs and behaviors can be associated with positive influences, there are also negative ones such as “sedentary life, the ingestion of processed food or smoking.”
Further, there are positive habits that are maintained among Hispanics, such as a higher consumption of fiber and a lower intake of saturated fats.
Or a lower incidence of smoking and certain “protective genetic and psychosocial factors” such as the emotional support provided by the family, in the second case.
“There is a clear positive side among Hispanics with the understanding of factors such as optimism and belonging to a close-knit family,” elements that are invaluable, he added.
As for the lack of clinical work of this scope, Penedo pointed to the need for investment in the promotion of studies that provide comprehensive, broad assessments and consider sociocultural, psychosocial, biological and lifestyle determinants of cancer survivors.