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Research presented by UNC Lineberger members was featured in plenary and other major sessions of the meeting this year, and was picked up by multiple media outlets.

Ethan Basch, MD, MSc, director of the UNC Lineberger Cancer Outcomes Research Program, presented findings from a new study in a plenary session at the ASCO Annual Meeting.

Research conducted by UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center members was featured prominently at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago, the largest cancer meeting in the world.

Ethan Basch, MD, MSc, director of the UNC Lineberger Cancer Outcomes Research Program, presented findings from a new study in a plenary session that draws all of the conference attendees together from multiple disciplines.

Basch and his colleagues found that cancer patients who reported their symptoms to their cancer care providers using a web-based survey lived five months longer than those patients who used standard reporting methods. The median overall survival benefit data were drawn from a Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center study that examined the impact of using computer surveys to communicate symptoms for patients with metastatic cancer.

“Symptom management is a cornerstone of high quality cancer care, and if we can control patients’ symptoms better, that’s a win, and it is meaningful in and of itself,” said Basch, who is also a professor in the UNC School of Medicine Division of Hematology & Oncology. “However, we have demonstrated that systematic monitoring of patient-reported outcomes is linked to quality-of-life improvements and fewer ER admissions, and people are actually living longer.”

Basch also spoke about the data at a meeting press conference that was attended by reporters from media outlets from across the globe. Stories covering Basch’s study ran in an array of media outlets, including the NBC Nightly News, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and the Financial Times.

UNC Lineberger researchers from across multiple disciplines, including UNC Lineberger members Stergios Moschos, MD, associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine, and Hyman B. Muss, MD, director of the UNC Lineberger Geriatric Oncology Program and the Mary Jones Hudson Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Medicine, presented research in oral presentations and poster sessions that ranged from findings from investigations into potential treatments for metastatic melanoma in the brain to efforts to improve treatment for older adults with cancer.

Ronald Chen, MD, MPH, associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine, provided commentary at a plenary discussion on health services research, and Carey K. Anders, MD, UNC Lineberger member and associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine, spoke in an oral abstract session on treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer. Lisa Carey, MD, physician-in-chief of the N.C. Cancer Hospital and the Richardson and Marilyn Jacobs Preyer Distinguished Professor in Breast Cancer Research, provided her perspective on the most notable studies on non-metastatic breast cancer.

UNC Lineberger researchers presented data from a study that identified a potential survival disparity for African Americans with oropharyngeal cancer linked to the sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus (HPV).

In an abstract presented in a poster session in the meeting, they found that for a small group of 16 African-Americans with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer, the odds were nearly five times higher for dying from the disease than white patients after adjusting for factors such as gender, stage of disease, age, treatment and smoking status. However, researchers did not find differences by race for head and neck cancer overall, for other specific head and neck cancer types, or for HPV-negative cancers.

“We’ve seen that patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer do better than patients who are HPV-negative, and while the biology behind that is not totally known, the phenomenon is very striking,” said UNC Lineberger’s D. Neil Hayes, MD, MPH, professor in the UNC School of Medicine Division of Hematology & Oncology. “But what we have found here is that African-Americans get HPV-linked oropharyngeal cancer at lower rates, and once they do have it, they don’t have the same benefit as white patients with the disease.”

For the study, researchers analyzed survival outcomes for 1,361 head and neck cancer patients in the Carolina Head and Neck Cancer Study, which enrolled patients in North Carolina from 2001 to 2006. Twenty-six percent, or 351 patients, in the study were black. And of that group, 16 black patients had HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer.

“We tend to think of our HPV-positive, oropharyngeal cancer patients coming in the door as low risk – that’s what the data has told us,” Hayes said. “There is pressure to decrease the intensity of therapy for HPV-positive patients. This is a real wake-up call that we need to understand this a little bit better before we start changing our practice for all patients, and especially for African-American patients. We are seeing a warning sign that these patients are not doing as well as we should hope, and we should be cautious.”

Although researchers found lower survival for black patients with HPV-linked cancer of the oropharynx, they did not find differences in survival by race for all head and neck cancers regardless of tumor site after they controlled for other variables that could also impact survival, such as socioeconomic status or baseline health.

“This demonstrates that survival is based on numerous factors,” said the study’s first author Siddharth Sheth, MD, a fellow in the UNC School of Medicine Division of Hematology & Oncology. “To confirm these findings, we need to study these trends in a larger population of black patients with HPV-positive disease, and also to examine other non-biologic factors that might impact patients’ survival, such as access to care, or treatment choice.”