Lung Cancer Screening and Epigenetics in African Americans: The Role of the Socioecological Framework

Front Oncol. 2019 Mar 12;9:87. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2019.00087. eCollection 2019.


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer morbidity and mortality in the U.S. and racial/ethnic minorities carry the greatest burden of lung cancer disparities with African Americans (AAs) impacted disproportionately. Inequities in lung cancer health disparities are often associated with multiple bio-behavioral and socio-cultural factors among racial/ethnic minorities. Epigenetic research has advanced the understanding of the intersectionality between biological and socio-cultural factors in lung cancer disparities among AAs. However, gaps exist in the engagement of diverse populations in epigenetic lung cancer research, which poses a challenge in ensuring the generalizability and implementation of epigenetic research in populations that carry an unequal cancer burden. Grounding epigenetic lung cancer research within a socio-ecological framework may prove promising in implementing a multi-level approach to community engagement, screening, navigation, and research participation among AAs. The University of Illinois Cancer Center (UI Cancer Center) is employing an evidence-based (EB) model of community/patient engagement utilizing the socio-ecological model (SEM) to develop a culturally sensitive epigenetic lung cancer research program that addresses multiple factors that impact lung cancer outcomes in AAs. By implementing epigenetic research within a group of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) guided by the SEM, the UI Cancer Center is proposing a new pathway in mitigating lung cancer disparities in underserved communities. At the individual level, the framework examines tobacco use among patients at FQHCs (the organizational level) and also tailors epigenetic research to explore innovative biomarkers in high risk populations. Interpersonal interventions use Patient Navigators to support navigation to EB tobacco cessation resources and lung cancer screening. Community level support within the SEM is developed by ongoing partnerships with local and national partners such as the American Lung Association (ALA) and the American Cancer Society (ACS). Lastly, at the policy level, the UI Cancer Center acknowledges the role of policy implications in lung cancer screening and advocates for policies and screening recommendations that examine the current guidelines from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF).

Keywords: African Americans; disparities; epigenetics; lung cancer; socio ecological model.