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A Penn Medicine study funded by the American Heart Association will focus on how breast and prostate cancer create a higher risk for cardiovascular disease among Black and Hispanic cancer survivors.

Credit: Avi Singh

The American Heart Association has granted the Cardio-Oncology Translational Center of Excellence at Penn $2.9 million to study racial disparities in risk for cardiovascular disease among cancer patients and survivors, Penn Medicine reported.

Nearly 17 million current cancer survivors have suffered from either breast or prostate cancer. According to Penn Medicine, the study funded by the AHA will focus on how these two types of cancers create a higher risk for cardiovascular disease among Black and Hispanic cancer survivors.

Over the next four years, professor of epidemiology Bonnie Ky will lead a team of about 30 researchers from across the country to "increase physical activity among high-risk breast and prostate cancer survivors and improve [their] health," Penn Medicine reported. Using basic and clinical research, they will evaluate how genetics, socioeconomic status, and environment affect a person’s heart health and discern if race influences these relationships.

A study from Drexel University found that, in Philadelphia, Black men have a higher risk of getting prostate cancer than white or Hispanic men. The study also found that Black women are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. One possible reason for the disparity is that Black women are less likely than white women to have their doctors recommend genetic testing, which can be helpful for detecting warning signs, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The team also plans to create a training curriculum on race and racial disparities that focuses on creating empathy, cultural humility, and competency among trainees in cardiology and oncology, Penn Medicine reported.

Researchers also plan to partner with Meharry Medical College, one of the largest and oldest historically Black medical schools in the United States, to create a summer program to train future physician-scientists to become leaders in cardio-oncology.

According to Penn Medicine, the initiative will also benefit from connections to the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn, which recently doubled the percentage of Black participants involved in their cancer clinical trials.

“This award opens up a whole new area of research in cardio-oncology, where there has been a dearth of evidence,” Ky told Penn Medicine. “It is time to more fully address disparities in healthcare in cardio-oncology. With this research we hope to understand why Black and Hispanic patients are disproportionately impacted by cardiovascular disease — and what additional measures we can take to overcome this.”