November 2001

From University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC to share in $34 million study of what happens to cancer patients

CHAPEL HILL – Cancer experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill schools of medicine and public health have been selected to participate in a new $34 million national study measuring the quality of care cancer patients receive across the United States and how patients do following treatment.

"This project, which is being funded by the National Cancer Institute after a stiff nationwide competition, will involve UNC and five other U.S. medical centers as study sites," said Dr. Robert S. Sandler, professor of medicine and epidemiology. "We’ll follow 1,000 newly diagnosed colon cancer patients for five years, and the others will follow more than 9,000 other patients with either lung or colon cancer."

Sandler, co-director of UNC’s Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will serve as principal investigator for the effort in North Carolina.

Collaborating centers will collect identical information about what happens to patients and pool the data to make it more useful, he said. They also will pursue special projects of their own design.

At the UNC site, researchers also will look specifically at "functional health literacy" – how people’s literacy affects their health.

"Our hypothesis is that people who can’t read and can’t understand written information given to them by physicians or hospitals might not be able to negotiate the medical system and not do as well," Sandler said.

UNC investigators also will collect blood samples and tumor tissue from patients to learn if biological factors influence how patients fare, he said.

Besides Sandler, Drs. Joel E. Tepper, Marci K. Campbell, John T. Woosley, Morris Weinberger and others will participate in the project, called "Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance Consortium (CanCORS). Respectively, they are faculty members in radiation oncology, nutrition, pathology and health policy and administration.

Researchers will obtain names of colon cancer patients in 22 central N.C. counties and invite them to participate. Those who agree will be followed closely over the five years to learn what happens to them following treatment by their personal doctors.

Smoking history, weight, diet, physical activity levels and medications taken all will be examined along with other patient characteristics and experiences.

"We’ll learn quite a lot from this study, including whether being poor, living in rural areas or being a minority affects how patients do with either of these two important cancers," Sandler said. "Of special interest to us will be patients’ survival and quality of life. We believe our pooled results eventually could improve both."

UNC’s share of the grant will total about $3.5 million. Other participating institutions are the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, the universities of Iowa and Alabama and RAND Health in Santa Monica, Calif.

The Farber institute will receive a larger share of the grant because, besides serving as a clinical center, it also will operate the study’s statistical coordinating center to gather and analyze all the data.

First results of the study are expected to appear in five years, Sandler said.

Note: Sandler can be reached at (919) 966-0090 or via e-mail at rsandler@med.unc.edu.
Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596.

By DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC News Services












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