UH Cancer Center studies the role of structural racism in lung cancer risk

July 18, 2022

Lani Park
Lani Park

University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center researchers S. Lani Park, PhD, MPH, and Iona Cheng, PhD, MPH, in collaboration with the University of Southern California, and University of California, San Francisco, have received over $700,000 in funding from the National Cancer Institute to study the role of structural racism on racial and ethnic inequities in lung cancer risks. This study will examine various measures of structural racism, such as residential segregation, to understand how persistent racial and ethnic inequities in African American, Japanese American, Latino, and Native Hawaiian adults contribute to different smoking behaviors and lung cancer risk.

Structural racism is a form of racism rooted in laws, policies, and social forces that perpetuate racial and ethnic health inequities. There is currently limited research investigating the influence of structural racism on smoking behaviors and lung cancer risk. Conducting this research may help to explain population inequities in disease risks.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women. While it is well-documented that smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer, smoking alone does not explain the difference in disease risk across racial and ethnic groups. The Multiethnic Cohort Study, led by the UH Cancer Center and the University of Southern California, provided the researchers with data that showed, when taking into account the variations in smoking history for the same amount smoked, Native Hawaiian and African American adults were at greater risk of lung cancer compared to White adults. Whereas, Japanese American and Latino adults were found to have a lower risk of developing lung cancer. The factors that explain higher risk in some populations remain largely unknown.

“Understanding how inequitable laws and policies contribute to smoking behaviors and lung cancer risk may help to make great strides toward reducing the racial and ethnic disparities of lung cancer.” said Park.

Findings from this study will help researchers understand measures of structural racism that impact smoking and lung cancer risk across diverse racial and ethnic groups. This work may help inform the development of interventions, and social or policy changes to promote smoking cessation and lung cancer prevention.