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Genetic ancestry: A new look at racial disparities in head and neck cancer
Date:9/26/2010

DETROIT Head and neck cancer outcomes associated with race may be more closely linked to social and behavioral factors than biological differences, especially for African Americans, according to a new Henry Ford Hospital study.

Researchers found that while those who self-reported to be African American are at greater risk for late stage cancer, there was no correlation between patients' genetic ancestry and cancer stage or survival.

In fact, the study shows only 5 percent of patients who self-reported to be African American had more than 95 percent West African ancestry.

"We believe this is the first piece of evidence using genetic race to take a closer look at outcomes with respect to stage early or late and survival in patients with head and neck cancer," says study lead author Maria J. Worsham, Ph.D., director of research in the Department of Otolaryngology at Henry Ford Hospital.

"We know that African Americans are disproportionately diagnosed with late-stage cancer and have worse outcomes than Caucasians. While there has been no real consensus on the causes for this difference, it is possible access to care, stage at diagnosis and insurance status may be factoring into the equation."

Study results will be presented Sept. 26 at the American Academy of OtolaryngologyHead & Neck Surgery Foundation Annual Meeting in Boston.

In 2009, there were an estimated 35,720 new cases of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and approximately 7,600 deaths. Smoking and alcohol use are the primary risk factors for this type of cancer.

African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage HNSCC and have worse survival than Caucasians. It's unknown whether significant biological rather than socioeconomic differences account for some of the disparities in outcomes.

Since self-reported race doesn't always offer a complete picture of a person's biologic make-up, Dr. Worsham
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Contact: Krista Hopson
khopson1@hfhs.org
313-874-7207
Henry Ford Health System
Source:Eurekalert  

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