With their unique contrasts in lifestyles and environmental exposures, developing countries offer researchers an incomparable chance to learn how cancer develops.
Although cancer strikes people of every race and ethnicity in all parts of the world, the magnitude of its impact varies from group to group—and that, says Amr Soliman, is a reflection of the complexity of cancer’s genetic and environmental determinants.
In Egypt, for example, 35 percent of colon-cancer patients are under 40, and colon cancer rarely occurs in older populations, but in the United States, the disease mostly strikes older Americans. Within the U.S., breast cancer typically occurs at a younger age in African-American women, and is more aggressive, than in white women.
Soliman, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and a member of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, believes that by studying cancer in ethnically diverse settings, researchers can unearth important clues about the genetic and environmental factors that underlie the disease. So Soliman is spearheading a five-year, $1.2-million program to train public health students to conduct cancer epidemiology research in 15 countries in Asia, Africa, and South America, as well as in minority populations across the U.S.
“With their unique contrasts in lifestyles and environmental exposures, developing countries provide an incomparable and often neglected opportunity for studying how cancer develops,” Soliman says. By studying cancer in foreign populations, researchers may find new genetic pathways or environmental factors that play a role in cancer development. And by understanding cancer trends in international populations, scientists can apply that knowledge to minoritypopulations in the U.S.
To learn more
- www.cancer.gov (National Cancer Institute)
- www.cdc.gov/cancer/ (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- www.iarc.fr (International Agency for Research on Cancer)
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- Seventy-five percent of cancer patients in the U.S. are over 65.
- Among major racial/ethnic groups in the U.S., African Americans have the highest rate of new cancers.
- Cancer rates among American Indians and Alaskan Natives are relatively low by comparison to other groups, with regionally higher rates of some cancers.
- Hispanics in the U.S. have lower incidence and death rates from all cancers combined, but have higher incidence and mortality rates from cancers of the stomach, liver, uterine cervix, and gallbladder.
- While Europe registers 10 to 15 cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, per 100,000 population and per year, Australia has an incidence of 50 cases per 100,000 population every year.