Researchers Unravel Hispanic Cancer Survivors’ Experience

Older Hispanic couple embracing
Article Summary
  • Avanzando Caminos is a study that looks to identify factors that drive poor health outcomes among Hispanics following cancer treatments.
  • Principal investigator Dr. Frank Penedo is investigating why Hispanics are less likely to achieve quality-of-life levels comparable to what they had before cancer.
  • The study is focusing on the impact of contextual, cultural and psychosocial factors on health after cancer treatment.

The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) six-year, $9.8 million Avanzando Caminos (Leading Pathways) Hispanic/Latino Cancer Survivorship Study has entered its second phase. Avanzando Caminos seeks to identify multiple factors that drive poor quality and health outcomes among Hispanics following primary cancer treatments.

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, leads the observational study in collaboration with Mays Cancer Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Researchers are examining how social, cultural, behavioral, psychosocial, biological and medical factors impact Latinos after cancer treatment.

The landmark study of 3,000 Hispanic cancer survivors of diverse Hispanic origin is the largest survivorship study to date and includes survivors of common as well as rare cancers.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for Hispanics/Latinos in the United States. Hispanics are less likely to achieve quality-of-life levels comparable to what they had before they were treated for cancer. In some cases, they report greater symptom burden and experience less favorable treatment outcomes, according to Frank Penedo, Ph.D., the Avanzando Caminos’ lead principal investigator.

Dr. Frank Penedo
Dr. Frank Penedo

“We don’t fully understand why that is the case,” said Dr. Penedo, who is also associate director for population sciences and director of cancer survivorship and supportive care at Sylvester.

Leading Pathways will use data to understand the “why.” Unlike prior, smaller studies of Hispanics that have focused on groups from specific geographic locations, a single Hispanic heritage background or less acculturated communities, this study will include Hispanics of Mexican, Cuban, Caribbean, Central American and South American descent.

Funding for this phase of Leading Pathways depended on meeting NCI benchmarks in the study’s first three years.

“We met the benchmarks of recruiting at least 18% of the sample and collecting at least 85% of the assessments we proposed to collect, which included comprehensive psychosocial assessments and blood samples,” Dr. Penedo said. “To date, we have recruited 700 of the 3,000 participants, so we’re on track.”

Dr. Penedo, a professor of psychology and medicine at the Miller School, is working with his colleagues to continue conducting the study’s large-scale assessments and follow-ups.

“These are comprehensive assessments that tap into multiple determinants of quality of life, symptom burden and disease activity and outcomes,” Dr. Penedo said. “We’re looking at contextual factors, like socioeconomic status and neighborhood composition, as well as cultural values like family interdependence that are prevalent in the Hispanic community. We’re also looking at typical psychosocial and behavioral factors like coping, social support, emotional distress, diet, physical activity and sleep. Biological markers being collected, such as pro-inflammatory and pro-angiogenic signaling, may show how social determinants of health and psychosocial factors get under the skin and affect symptom burden such as pain, fatigue, cognitive function and disease activity, including multiple health outcomes.”

Tags: Avanzando Caminos, cancer research, Dr. Frank Penedo, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center