Research from an investigator at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and colleagues from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other facilities, shows differences in a certain type of small protein vary by race and may contribute differently to the development of lung cancer in African Americans and European Americans. Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey researcher Sharon R. Pine, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is the co-lead author of the work to be published in the March 4 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. She shares more about the work in an interview.
Q: Why is this topic important to explore?
A: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and has a poor five-year survival rate of only 16 percent. This in part can be attributed to the disease being diagnosed at a later stage. Identifying biomarkers of lung cancer may improve early detection and ultimately increase survival. African Americans have a higher chance of developing lung cancer and have lower lung cancer survival rates as compared to European Americans, which research shows may be due to differences in genetics, environment or modalities of care. Identification of biomarkers that would uniquely distinguish African Americans at a high risk of lung cancer may help to bridge the gap in lung cancer racial health disparities. Our work involves cytokines, which are small proteins released by cells that affect communication between cells. Our team hypothesized that a difference in serum cytokine levels between the two populations may yield some answers.
Q: What did you and your colleagues find?
A: We analyzed the levels of ten serum cytokines in blood samples from over 450 African-American and European-American lung cancer patients or healthy adults. We found the levels of six cytokines were significantly higher among European Americans than African Americans. The levels of two cytokines were associated with lung cancer in both races, but other elevated cytokine levels were associated with lung cancer only in African Americans. We then verified our findings by testing patients enrolled in the prospective Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial and the Wayne State University-Karmanos Cancer Institute case-control study.
Q: What is the implication of these findings?
A: These findings suggest that cytokine levels in the blood vary by race and may contribute to lung cancer differently between African Americans and European Americans. Additional work would be needed to confirm our results, but our data suggest that testing for these cytokines could help identify African Americans who are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer, and thus, potentially improve survival for lung cancer patients.
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