Research

Hollings Cancer Center is home to more than 120 researchers collaborating on better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat this complex disease.

As the state's only NCI-designated cancer center, Hollings Cancer Center is committed to innovative cancer research that translates into better quality of care and outcomes for our patients.

Through transdisciplinary team science, a robust clinical trials portfolio and leading experts in basic, clinical and population sciences, Hollings Cancer Center serves a complex and diverse ethnic, sociocultural, socioeconomic and geographic area. The center continues to focus on expanding and developing new research expertise to address the state’s specific cancer burden across all cancer types, with a particular focus on breast, lung, prostate, colorectal and cancers of the head and neck. This requires strategic initiatives and ongoing research to understand and develop interventions that minimize cancer outcomes disparities among our diverse communities.

As part of this strategic goal, Hollings Cancer Center participates in two programs.

  • The Geographical Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program (GMaP) is a national program designed to facilitate collaboration, resource-sharing, and capacity-building among cancer health equity researchers, trainees, outreach workers and organizations. The key goal of GMaP is to advance cancer health equity research and training. Hollings Cancer Center, along with UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, coordinates these efforts in South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee, known as Region 1-South.
  • The National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) at MUSC is one of only twelve other NCORP sites in the country devoted to serving minority and underserved populations. Comprised of six high-quality healthcare facilities in South Carolina, the overall goal of this program is to bring cancer clinical trials to individuals in their own communities and reduce cancer disparities.

Reducing the Cancer Burden Through Research

The center also specializes in research innovations in the following areas of need for the state.

  • Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in South Carolina for women, and there are significant racial and ethnic disparities between the state and the nation as a whole. In both geographic regions, African-American women are less likely than non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but they are more likely to die from it. Hollings Cancer Center has many research projects exploring better treatments for breast cancer. This includes work by Nancy DeMore, M.D., who co-leads an NCI-funded study to improve breast imaging methods and Elizabeth Yeh, Ph.D., who is studying the mechanisms of drug resistance and approaches to overcome resistance to treatment, which is a fundamental challenge to finding a cure for breast cancer.
  • Lung cancer is diagnosed far more often than other cancers in the state, and it takes more lives. The rate of deaths from lung cancer is more than three times the level of the next most-common cancer, colorectal. Many patients are diagnosed at advanced stages, and data shows there are health disparities among races. Hollings Cancer Center has many research projects targeting finding better treatments for breast, including promising immunotherapy trials. Researcher Marvella Ford, Ph.D., and her colleague, Nestor Esnaola, M.D., at Fox Chase Cancer Center are conducting an NIMHD-funded study to see if a patient navigation intervention can help improve outcomes for minorities. According to the S.C. Central Cancer Registry, patients in the state who are diagnosed with lung cancer, 46 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 48 percent of African-Americans are diagnosed with disease that has metastasized. Evidence also shows African-Americans with early-stage non-small cell lung cancer are significantly less likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to receive surgery, and they may also be less likely to participate in lung cancer trials.

  • The state has high rates of prostate cancer incidence and mortality for all men, and prostate cancer deaths are ranked fifth in the nation among African-American men.

    One researcher looking into this problem is David P. Turner, Ph.D., who has an NCI-funded study to explore the role of AGE, or advanced glycation end products, on race-specific tumor immune response in prostate cancer. Chronic inflammation is associated with the physical complications related to being a prostate cancer survivor. In feasibility studies, both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment were shown to successfully reduce AGE levels, suggesting AGE reduction may improve cancer outcomes.

    Another promising research project is Hollings Cancer Center’s Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center in Precision Medicine and Minority Men's Health. In July 2016, researchers Chanita Hughes-Halbert, Ph.D., Stephen P. Ethier, Ph.D. and Michael B. Lilly, M.D. collaborated to form the center, which is an NIMHD-funded U54 grant. The goal is to determine the most effective ways to identify the various determinants of prostate cancer risks and outcomes into more precise medical strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat prostate cancer. The center focuses on health care and outcomes in minority men, stress and stress reactivity, community engagement and implementation and developing novel methods for precision medicine.

  • Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common malignancy and cause of cancer death in South Carolina. Compared to whites, African-Americans have a substantially higher mortality rate, a function of both higher incidence and lower survival rates. Racial disparities in survival persist even after controlling for stage at diagnosis. The reasons for this are not known, but possible explanations include racial differences in aggressiveness of the tumors, socioeconomic variables, and treatment-related factors.

  • South Carolina has significant racial disparities in head and neck cancer. In 2016, the oropharyngeal cancer mortality rate in the state was 2.8 for whites and 3.5 for African Americans. This age-adjusted disparity in mortality rates persists despite the fact that in the state, African American men have a relatively low rate of tobacco use as compared to their white counterparts. A number of Hollings Cancer Center investigators have focused research efforts on head and neck cancer. David M. Neskey, M.D., has an NIDCR grant exploring the development of novel therapeutics that re-engage the p53 pathway and that may help identify patients with p53 mutations that place them at high risk of progression.

  • Recognizing the large number of health issues related to tobacco-caused cancers and the effect of smoking on cancer treatment, Hollings Cancer Center has developed a robust Tobacco Treatment Program. The center supports ongoing tobacco research, resources and counseling services for smokers, and a Lung Cancer Screening Program along with specific initiatives for cancer patients being treated at HCC. There are a number of research studies, with ongoing tobacco research conducted through the South Carolina Tobacco Research Group, SC TRIG, a focus group for researchers, clinicians, and staff at MUSC.

  • Graham W. Warren, M.D., Ph.D., and Marvella Ford, Ph.D., both members of the Cancer Control Research Program, are conducting an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality-funded trial titled, “Improving Evidence based Care for Cancer Patients.” Despite conclusive evidence that smoking causes adverse outcomes in cancer patients, 60 to 80 percent of newly diagnosed cancer patients do not receive smoking cessation support from oncologists or referral to smoking cessation support programs. The researchers are exploring what treatment plans produce the best cessation rates.

It’s important to have the input of the public

Dr. Judith Salley-Guydon and Dr. Marvella Ford are leading the way in establishing the South Carolina Cancer Disparities Research Center.

 Read the Story

Guydon and Ford
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