Health Disparities Research

As the state's only NCI-designated cancer center, MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is committed to innovative cancer research that translates into better quality of care and outcomes for our patients.

Through transdisciplinary team science, a robust clinical trials portfolio, and leading experts in basic, clinical, and population sciences, we serve a complex and diverse ethnic, sociocultural, socioeconomic, and geographic area. 

We continue to focus on expanding and developing new research expertise to address the state’s specific cancer burden across all cancer types. This requires strategic initiatives and ongoing research to understand and develop interventions that minimize cancer outcomes disparities among our diverse communities.

The National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) at MUSC is one of only 14 NCORP sites in the country devoted to serving minority and underserved populations. Comprised of seven high-quality health care facilities in South Carolina, the goal of this program is to bring cancer clinical trials to individuals in their own communities and reduce cancer disparities.

Reducing the Cancer Burden Through Research

Hollings also specializes in research innovations in the following areas of need for the state.

Head & Neck Cancer

In South Carolina, African Americans are 50% more likely to die from head and neck cancer than white people. This concerning trend has prompted deeper research into factors that might drive these disparities in mortality. Hollings researcher Evan Graboyes, M.D., is examining how to improve the timeliness and equity of care delivery for head and neck cancer patients – including reducing delays in radiation treatment, which disproportionately burden African Americans. Learn more about the barriers he found that prevent patients from getting radiation treatment in a timely manner.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in South Carolina for women, and there are significant racial and ethnic disparities between the state and the nation. African American women are less likely than non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but they are more likely to die from it. 

Hollings has many ongoing projects to better understand these disparities for the purpose of developing better treatments.

  • With $3 million in funding from the National Cancer Institute, a team of Hollings researchers led by Peggi Angel, Ph.D., is studying how patterns of proteins in the body can serve as biomarkers of breast cancer risk and potentially reveal clues to what might be driving breast cancer health disparities.
  • Work by Marvella Ford, Ph.D., found known breast cancer lifestyle risks such as a higher body mass index and lower rates of physical activity are more prevalent in African Americans without Sea Island/Gullah ancestry than in Sea Islanders.
  • Research by Ford and David P. Turner, Ph.D., showed that mammary gland development is linked to breast cancer disparity, potentially mediated through socioeconomic status and childbearing patterns, such as the age at which a young woman starts menstruating.

Prostate Cancer

The state has high rates of prostate cancer incidence and mortality for all men, and prostate cancer deaths in the U.S. are twice as likely for African American men compared to men of other races. 

Recent research by Chanita Hughes-Halbert, Ph.D., examined the rates of co-morbidity — which refers to the presence of two or more chronic diseases or conditions in a patient — in prostate cancer. She found that 51% of participants had an underlying health issue, with high blood pressure being the most common — a condition that tends to be more prevalent in African Americans.  

General Health Disparities Research

  • Hughes-Halbert recently contributed to a first-of-its-kind Cancer Disparities Progress Report as a member of the American Association for Cancer Research steering committee and was part of the virtual congressional briefing that unveiled the report to the nation. 

    The report tracks the progress that has been made to understand and address cancer health disparities and highlights the multilevel determinants of racial and ethnic disparities in cancer risks and outcomes. While the report highlights progress, Hughes-Halbert advocates that there needs to be continued investment to fund research, clinical initiatives, and studies to continue making progress to achieve cancer health equity. 

    Learn more about findings from the Cancer Disparities Progress Report and check out these graphics that provide an overview of some of the report's highlights.

  • Ford contributed to this cancer health equity research volume that curates the latest developments in how researchers can best address health disparities so all patients receive good quality care.

Cancer in African American Men in South Carolina

This first-of-its-kind cancer report focuses on the types of cancer that are contributing to the large burden of cancer experienced among African American men in our state — a population on which few health reports focus specifically.

"South Carolina is making significant strides in combating cancer in our state. It is our desire for these benefits to reach African American men as well. The purpose of this report is to show areas where disparities still exist, and to make some recommendations to develop strategies to reduce, and eventually eliminate, these disparities," said Marvella Ford, Ph.D., associate director of Population Science and Community Outreach and Engagement at Hollings.

Training the Next Generation of Cancer Researchers

Hollings Cancer Center offers a wide variety of disparities-related research programs for students interested in pursuing a career in cancer research. To further enhance these programs, we’ve established partnerships throughout the state and joint research projects to expand the reach of our work, including statewide cancer education and training programs with regional minority-serving higher education institutions.

The South Carolina Cancer Disparities Research Center (SC CADRE), a partnership between South Carolina State University (SCSU) and MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, aims to build a lasting, sustainable, translational cancer research structure at SCSU and further strengthen a research education pipeline that will provide a new diverse generation of cancer researchers. The collaboration resulted in the creation of a racially and ethnically diverse biorepository which will help researchers identify differences in the biological pathways involved in certain diseases. Learn more about our collaboration with SCSU.