Feb. 13 2018

A Snapshot of Mailman School Initiatives for Cancer Prevention Month

Faculty at the Mailman School of Public Health are using a variety of perspectives to study cancers, cancer screening, and cancer support options. These include the effects of environmental exposures and behaviors, and the association of diet and physical activity on cancer treatment, outcomes, and survival rates.

Several studies are examining the role of family history of cancer, drawing on large samples of women and girls.

Professors Mary Beth Terry, Regina Santella, Jasmine McDonald, and Lauren Houghton are studying the influence of behavior, environment, and diet on pubertal growth in girls, as part of the LEGACY Girls Study. Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the five-year study is following more than 1,000 girls and their parent or guardian to collect information on growth and development, diet, and lifestyle factors. Half of the girls come from families with a history of breast cancer, and the other half come from families without breast cancer. In another grant funded by the NCI, Parisa Tehranifar, Epidemiology, and Terry, Epidemiology, are building on the Sister Study of over 50,000 women with at least one sister diagnosed with breast cancer at enrollment, to create more precise clinical care and surveillance in women with a family history of breast cancer.

Located at the Mailman School, the Metropolitan New York Registry contains data and biospecimens donated by more than 8,000 families with a history of breast and ovarian cancer. Researchers, including Terry and Santella, Environmental Health Sciences, are using the data to identify new avenues for prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer. Their most recent study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at how genetic susceptibility to breast cancer is mediated by exposure to air pollution. Dr. Terry is also principal investigator of the Breast Cancer Family Registry, whose participants include more than 30,000 women and men from nearly 12,000 families from the U.S., Canada, and Australia.  

Other research efforts are focused on cancer risk in Northern Manhattan, including patient response to screenings and health education efforts.

Through a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Parisa Tehranifar, Epidemiology, and colleagues are following patients at the Avon Foundation Breast Imaging Center in Washington Heights to gauge what they know about mammographic breast density, how they feel about their screenings, how well they understand their results, and if they are accessing any additional medical services as a result of their mammogram reports.

Through four NIH- and NCI-funded projects, Grace Hillyer, Epidemiology, is studying strengthening community outreach capacity to educate Washington Heights residents about the genetics, including why genes are relevant to their everyday life, especially as they relate to cancer, with research. The NCI Community Oncology Research Program through the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center focuses on the most serious, prevalent cancers and cancer-related problems that disproportionately affect underserved populations.

Daniel Giovenco, Sociomedical Sciences, and his research team recently collected data on tobacco product promotion from over 800 tobacco retailers in New York City. They documented storefront advertising, product availability, and pricing for a variety of products, including e-cigarettes. In collaboration with the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Giovenco is investigating the relationship between the localized marketing environment and how residents’ use these products.

In a study published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority HealthAna Abraido-Lanza, Sociomedical Sciences, and colleagues examined the link between social norms and physical activity among Dominican women. She found most women reported no vigorous leisure-time physical activity or resistance training and about half reported no moderate activity. There is growing evidence of a link between obesity and cancer, and regular physical activity is crucial to preventing obesity.

Peter Muennig, Health Policy and Management, and colleagues explored changes to the urban environment that have the potential to reduce pm 2.5, an important source of lung and other cancers produced by diesel engines. In their study focused on the Cross-Bronx Expressway published in the American Journal of Public Health, they found that there are huge benefits—both economic benefits and health benefits—associated with turning major road arteries into parks.

Several more cancer research studies are examining the benefits of cancer screenings, both in the U.S. and internationally.  

The American Cancer Society awarded Rachel Shelton, Sociomedical Sciences, a four-year Research Scholar Grant to study the sustainability of Lay Health Advisor programs centered on cancer screening in African-American communities. This grant builds off Shelton’s partnership with lay health advisors and cancer survivors from the National Witness Project and builds off of her recently published work on the factors important to facilitating the long-term implementation of peer-led programs for cancer prevention and screening. 

The Population-Based Brain Tumor Detection Study, led by Grace Hillyer, will examine the results of brain MRI scans to assess the prevalence of brain tumors among individuals receiving free screening through the Brain Tumor Foundation’s Drive to Early Detection campaign in South Africa. 

Finally, Mailman School scientists continue to examine the connections between environmental exposures and cancer risks

In collaboration with epidemiologists from the VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine, Jeanne Stellman, Health Policy and Management, and Steven Stellman, Epidemiology, are following a cohort of military and civilian personnel who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War in order to examine cancer, mental health, and other outcomes in relation to military exposures such as herbicides and combat.

Regina Santella, Environmental Health Sciences, is the senior investigator on research that links exposure to Aflatoxin B1—carcinogens produced by certain molds which grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay, and grains—and increased risk of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma in chronic hepatitis B virus carriers.

Manuela Orjuela, Epidemiology, is a co-author on studies looking at Classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma following organ transplantation, the link between diet and childhood leukemia, and socioeconomic factors in the global incidence of neuroblastoma. She also has presented findings on sunlight exposure and retinoblastoma.