$10.24 million for Latina breast cancer research

Beti Thompson to lead five-year effort based at Center
Dr. Beti Thompson
Dr. Beti Thompson Public Health Sciences Division

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $10.24 million to the Hutchinson Center to direct a five-year study that aims to understand and prevent breast cancer disparities in Hispanic women.

The Center is among 10 institutions nationwide to receive funding as part of the NIH Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities program, which is launching a major new effort to understand and address inequities associated with cancer and heart disease.

Behavioral scientist Dr. Beti Thompson of the Public Health Sciences Division, whose research focuses largely on improving cancer screening and prevention within the Hispanic community, is the principal investigator of the Center-based initiative.

The study’s four research projects will range from exploring ways to improve mammography screening rates among Seattle-area Latinas (led by Dr. Gloria Coronado of PHS) to understanding the relationship between dietary patterns and risk of obesity in Hispanic women (led by Dr. Marian Neuhouser of PHS). The research will also examine the interplay of risk factors and the biology of breast cancer in this population through two studies, one co-led by PHS’s Dr. Chris Li and the other by Dr. Peggy Porter of the Human Biology Division.

Lifestyle changes fuel higher breast cancer rate

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among U.S. Hispanic women. While the incidence of the disease among Latinas is lower than that of non-Hispanic white women (83.5 per 100,000 women versus 147.3 per 100,000 women), as they adopt the practices of mainstream U.S. culture, their risk for breast cancer increases.

“Once Latinas come to live in this country, within a generation their risk of breast cancer increases tremendously and approaches that of non-Hispanic whites, so we think something about their lifestyle before they immigrate to the U.S. protects them,” Thompson said. “It is important to find out what this is so that we can encourage Latinas to make behavioral decisions that foster a protective effect against breast cancer.”

Latinas also have lower five-year survival rates for the disease as compared to non-Hispanic white women because they are likely to be diagnosed with later-stage disease and because they are at increased risk for breast cancers with a poor prognosis. As such, the research will also explore the genetics and biology of Latina breast cancer to try to identify what makes these women more susceptible than non-Hispanic white women to particularly aggressive, treatment-resistant forms of the disease.

Working toward earlier detection

The long-term goal of the project is to understand the precursors of breast cancer in Latinas, understand the types of breast cancer found in this population, and develop and implement a comprehensive screening program to improve early detection of the disease.

The initiative will involve approximately 30 investigators throughout the Center and at several collaborating institutions, including the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the University of Washington and the University of New Mexico Cancer Center. Seattle’s Sea Mar Community Health Center also will participate in one of the projects.

In addition to the four projects, the grant will cover infrastructural support in administration, ethics and policy, genetics, and training and career development for junior investigators.

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