Historic UCSF Asian American cancer study gets $12.45 million grant; participants needed

BySuzanne Phan KGO logo
Thursday, May 23, 2024
Historic UCSF Asian American cancer study gets $12.45M grant
A new $12.45 million grant from the National Cancer Institute will help fund a ground-breaking UCSF study into cancer among Asian Americans.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A new $12.45 million grant from the National Cancer Institute will help fund a ground-breaking UCSF study into cancer among Asian Americans.

It's the first long-term study of its kind -- even though cancer is the leading cause of death among Asian Americans.

UCSF researchers say this is a major historic study. They've been waiting for a study like this for a long time.

With this huge grant, researchers believe they can better understand why so many Asian Americans are getting cancer.

"When my mom first got diagnosed, I really couldn't believe it," said Sarah Wan of San Francisco.

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What happened to Wan's mother is still a big mystery.

"My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was like 90, and she has never smoked in her life," Wan said.

This year, Wan's mother is 94-years old.

She has been surviving with cancer for the past four years.

Thanks to a new $12.45 million dollar grant from the National Cancer Institute, UCSF will launch a new study this fall to figure out what's driving cancer in Asian Americans.

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"It really has the potential to set the stage, to provide the opportunity for us to really make leaps and bounds in terms of our discoveries of what causes cancer in the Asian American population," said Scarlett Lin Gomez, PhD, MPH, co-leader of the Cancer Control Program at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, and one of three co-principal investigators of the study.

Gomez says a lot people don't know that cancer is the number one cause of death among Asian Americans.

"There is this preconception that cancer is not a problem among Asian American communities," Gomez said.

Gomez also says, surprisingly, many Asian American women have lung cancer--and they do not smoke.

"There has been no study done to study this specifically in the U.S., so we don't know what the factors are," Gomez said.

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At North East Medical Services in Chinatown, Dr. Justin Quock is an oncologist and multi-specialty medical director. He sees about 20 to 30 Asian American patients a day.

"The majority of the patients I do see have lung cancer, breast cancer," said Dr. Quock. "About 40% of females I see have lung cancer that's not associated with smoking. It's astronomical."

Doctors don't know why that's happening.

"Speculation is that they are exposed to spouses that smoke, or maybe the way they cook their foods using a wok. But that's all speculation. We really need hard data to help us understand better to prevent this cancer," said Dr. Quock.

"I'm really glad it got the attention and the resources to do research," Wan said.

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As for Sarah Wan, she says the new grant money for the UCSF study will hopefully bring answers.

"Maybe that could answer my question. Why do my mom have lung cancer, who was never a smoker, at such an old age?" said Wan.

UCSF wants Asian-Americans across the country to get on board with this study.

This fall, UCSF will begin enrolling 20,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 75 years old from every Asian American ethnic group.

They hope to eventually enroll as many as 50,000 participants for the study.

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