Cancer in Historic African American population explored by CRL researchers

Research associates and assistants at the Cobb Research Lab met over the summer to form a specialized team. Their goal was investigate various forms of cancer in the Cobb Collection. The reason for these studies was that Cancer continues to be a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the African American community but insights into the types and incidence of cancer 85 years ago have been virtually non-existent. Historical information on cancer were hypothesized to shed light on current health disparities, particularly among African Americans. The aims of this group’s study were to: 1) assess the frequencies of the cancer types present among Cobb Collection individuals; 2) compare these data with current research on cancer in African Americans; and 3) evaluate the pattern of cancer expression as a cause of death between 1931-1969 in an historic African American subgroup and compare this pattern with the historic and contemporary patterns of cancer etiology and incidence.
To conduct their study, Systematic assessments of the existing
clinical, demographic, and anatomical records in the Cobb Research Laboratory were made of individuals identified as dying from specific cancers from 1931-1969. These were compared with the national profiles of cancer during the historic time an individual died as well as the contemporary patterns of cancer deaths.


17 different cancer types were found within 28 individuals of the Cobb Collection between 1931 and 1969. The cancer types with the highest frequencies were carcinoma of stomach, lung, esophagus, larynx and bronchogenic carcinoma. 84% of all cancer incidents occurred in males and 76% were among individuals identified as African American. 71% of the highest incidence cancers were among African American males.
The team’s results provide historical depth to our knowledge of the common cancer causes of morbidity among African Americans of Washington DC from 1931-1969. They contrasted these findings with national historical data on cancer etiology and ethnic disparities in incidence. Their study suggests that historic data can provide longitudinal depth to our understanding of the persistence of cancer susceptibilities in a vulnerable subgroup.
A manuscript will be submitted on this research to the highly regarded Frontiers in Oncology as part of a special issue on cancer in ethnically diverse populations. A second cancer paper is underway to explore the geospatial incidence of specific cancers in this historic population. It is also hoped that their explorations of cancer in this unique population will catch the attention of funders at the National Cancer Institute.


Members of the Cancer1 and/or Cancer2 Teams include: Dr. Latifa Jackson, Ms. Rita Okolo, Dr. Hasan Jackson, Ms. Mariam Mohammed, Mr. Nicholas Guthrie, Mr. Shihyun Kim, and Dr. Fatimah Jackson. ****

Cobb Lab