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Massey researcher awarded $1.3M to identify environmental risks for bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Jul 02, 2021

Map_of_bladder_cancer_risk_in_New_England_states Risk of bladder cancer in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont over a 25-year period based on residential histories of subjects in the New England Bladder Cancer Study.

VCU Massey Cancer Center researcher David Wheeler, M.P.H., Ph.D., was awarded more than $1.3 million in total funding through a U01 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to better understand environmental, geographic and socioeconomic risk factors that lead to bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Investigators have extensively studied geographic patterns of health outcomes and environmental exposures that suggest causal factors or risks for specific types of disease. However, research is fairly limited for diseases that have longer latency periods — the amount of time between exposure and the presentation of symptoms. Where a patient has lived many years prior to their diagnosis is key to pinpointing potentially relevant environmental contributors.

Bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — the sixth and seventh most common cancers in the U.S., respectively, according to the NCI — both have substantial latency periods, including up to as many as 40 years for bladder cancer.

“Many environmental factors are distributed unevenly over space and time and several decades may have elapsed between exposure to a relevant risk factor and diagnosis,” said Wheeler, member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Massey and associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the VCU School of Medicine. “Through this grant, we will develop new statistical methods that incorporate residential histories to estimate the effect of historic environmental and socio-spatial exposures and identify areas of elevated cancer risk over time.”

Using Bayesian spatial statistical models, Wheeler will analyze NCI-funded case-control studies of bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to identify geographic areas that pose a significant risk for these diseases, as well as gain an understanding of the combination of environmental and neighborhood socioeconomic exposures that are associated with increased risk of diagnosis.

Wheeler hopes that the methodologies developed through this research project will be broadly applicable for the identification of environmental risk factors associated with a variety of cancer types or other illnesses.


Written by: Blake Belden

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