When a cutting-edge cancer tool becomes available, marginalized populations such as African Americans and older patients often have less access to it than other populations. This is problematic, especially when those with limited access are those who could benefit the most. As a result, public health researchers try to study how new tools are utilized within communities and identify ways to optimize their use for all populations.
Katherine Reeder-Hayes, MD
This is exactly what Katherine Reeder-Hayes, MD, is doing thanks to a Conquer Cancer Career Development Award supported by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. She and her team at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are analyzing the use of a new test in breast cancer called gene-expression profiling. The test can predict which patients with hormone receptor–positive (HR+) breast cancer may benefit the most from chemotherapy; it also estimates the likelihood of recurrence.
Unfortunately, not all patients who should receive this test do. Dr. Reeder-Hayes and her team are trying to determine why.
“We don’t know who is getting the test and who is not getting it in the community,” explained Dr. Reeder-Hayes. “We also don’t know whether those decisions are being made based on things about the patient’s cancer that make sense clinically or instead based on financial or other characteristics of the patient.”
Specifically, Dr. Reeder-Hayes and her team are looking for differences in who receives the test by race. This is important because HR+ breast cancer in African American women can be more aggressive than in other races. For these women, gene-expression profiling could be a key tool for ensuring they get the treatment they need.
Ultimately, Dr. Reeder-Hayes hopes she can prove that applying this test broadly across populations will improve public health outcomes. ■
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