USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center

$3 Million Grant to Fund Studies Investigating How Stress Contributes to Higher Rates of Lung Cancer in the Black Community

September 27, 2021

Chanita Hughes-Halbert. (Photo provided by Chanita Hughes-Halbert)
Chanita Hughes-Halbert. (Photo provided by Chanita Hughes-Halbert)

LOS ANGELES, CA – Lung cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among racial/ethnic minorities and individuals from other medically underserved groups. To combat these racial inequalities in lung cancer, Dr. Chanita Hughes-Halbert, associate director for cancer equity at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, will collaborate with Dr. Robert Winn, director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center (VCU Massey), and other scientific leaders at the Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center(MUSC Hollings) and the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center to address lung cancer racial disparities through precision medicine, targeted smoking cessation programs, and community outreach. The studies will be funded by the National Cancer Institute through a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant.

Biological Pathways in Stress Reactivity and Nicotine Addiction among African American/Black and White Smokers,” led by Dr. Hughes-Halbert, is one of the research projects funded by the SPORE grant. Dr. Hughes-Halbert will be the first to investigate how cortisol – the body’s main stress hormone – relates to racial differences in smoking behaviors and overall lung cancer risk. These findings could lead to more tailored approaches to smoking cessation as well as medications that reduce the lung cancer burden on the Black community by counteracting stress.

“We are excited to be a part of this collaboration that will lead to novel discoveries and advance the science for lung cancer equity through a multi-institutional collaboration,” said Dr. Hughes-Halbert, who also serves as vice chair for research and professor for the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine.

Although the racial gap in lung cancer cases appears to be closing, likely due to the success of anti-smoking campaigns, Black men still have a higher risk of developing lung cancer compared to white men, even though they tend to smoke less – an effect referred to as the “Black smoking paradox.” Black patients are also more likely than white patients to be diagnosed at later stages and to receive no treatment at all for their cancer. 

The grant will establish the Translational Research Center in Lung Cancer Disparities – TRACER for short – based at VCU Massey, in partnership with MUSC Hollings and City of Hope. TRACER will engage a host of community groups, including local health departments, community health centers, marginalized populations, civic activists, educational institutions, faith-based groups, and cancer survivors.

After the three-year funding period of this initial award, which is considered a P20 exploratory grant, the infrastructure will be in place to apply for a larger, five-year P50 SPORE award that will establish a more permanent research program devoted to ending racial inequities in lung cancer. 

About USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

At the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, more than 250 dedicated physicians and scientists are leading the fight to make cancer a disease of the past. As one of the eight original National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States, USC Norris has revolutionized cancer research, treatment, and prevention for nearly 50 years. Multidisciplinary teams provide the latest evidence-based care at USC Norris Cancer Hospital, a 60-bed hospital, as well as outpatient clinics throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties.

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