By Caleb Hampton
The UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is set to launch two new initiatives next year to improve breast health and early cancer detection in underserved women in rural communities, UC Davis Health announced Thursday. The new tools for early cancer detention will include a “mammovan” and free genetic testing.
The cancer center is funding the new initiatives with $10 million it received from a class-action lawsuit against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. “The lawsuit alleged Wyeth misrepresented the benefits and risks of its hormone replacement therapy medications for women,” UC Davis Health reported. “In cases where money remains after eligible class members receive their claim payments, courts can distribute those funds to charitable causes in what’s referred to as a cy pres award.”
According to UC Davis Health, the cancer center prioritized projects focused on women in marginalized communities who have typically been underrepresented in research and are at higher risk for cancer and other diseases. Altogether, four proposals from the UC Davis School of Medicine received funding from the lawsuit, including two projects focused on breast cancer.
“The cancer center is pleased to roll out these groundbreaking projects, which promise to make a positive impact on the health of women from marginalized communities who for too long have suffered from limited access to routine screenings and care,” Primo “Lucky” Lara Jr., director of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, told the UC Davis Health news service.
Latinas and other women of color, as well as women living in rural areas, are at higher risk of advanced breast cancer and breast cancer death, according to UC Davis Health.
One of the new initiatives, the “mammovan,” is a mobile van that will offer free mammograms to women in Northern California and the Central Valley. The initiative is meant to make the screenings more accessible for women in rural areas.
Project leader Diana Miglioretti, who is a professor and division chief of biostatistics at UC Davis, told the news service that early detection of breast cancer is crucial for reducing death rates. “Screening mammography reduces breast cancer mortality by about 25% through early detection,” she said.
Meanwhile, Miglioretti said, women in underserved populations often miss out on screenings that could catch the cancer early on. “More than 30% of women are inadequately screened and rates are even lower among marginalized populations,” she said. “For example, only 34% of uninsured Latina women are up to date on routine screening mammography.”
In addition to providing easily accessible mammography, the “mammovan” will also be used to collect data for a precision breast cancer screening program Miglioretti and her team will develop over the next five years.
According to UC Davis Health, the program will use genomics and artificial intelligence to predict breast cancer risk. Miglioretti’s team will use blood and saliva samples to measure hormone levels and exposure to chemicals, including those found in pesticides and wildfire smoke.
“Bilingual and bicultural health educators, along with community health workers, will provide health education and help ensure women with positive findings receive timely follow-up care,” UC Davis Health reported.
The second project, which will be conducted in the same underserved communities, will offer free genetic testing and counseling for up to 500 women with breast cancer. “The project aims to identify patients with inherited mutations and improve breast cancer outcomes,” UC Davis Health reported.
The project leader Luis Carvajal-Carmona, who is the cancer center’s associate director for basic science and the founder and co-director of the Latinos United for Cancer Health Advancement (LUCHA), said the project will be the first to analyze the benefits of universal genetic testing in underserved communities in California.
According to UC Davis Health, there is mounting evidence that universal testing — offering genetic testing and counseling to all cancer patients regardless of their family history — is more cost-effective than family history-based testing.
“The testing will also help us identify the most common mutations among patients from these communities, which will help boost effective breast cancer treatments,” said Carvajal-Carmona.
Patients participating in the program will have access to precision medicine approaches that consider their genes and environment as well as their lifestyle and behaviors, the health center reported.
“Our study will hopefully offer these patients the best shot to beat cancer,” said Carvajal-Carmona. “While this project offers free precision medicine that is tailored culturally and linguistically, it will also help advance science for the benefit of all patients by providing valuable research.”