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Sylvester Experts to Study COVID-19 Health Outcome Disparities of Breast Cancer Survivors

Cancer survivors may have a higher risk for COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality due to compromised immune, heart, and lung functions. Epidemiology experts with the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are focusing their research on addressing COVID-19-related issues in breast cancer survivorship and promoting vaccination.

Jennifer Hu, Ph.D., professor and director of the Division of Epidemiology and Populations Health Sciences in the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, in collaboration with epidemiology experts from the department, will begin a new project to investigate and address the impacts of COVID-19 on health outcome disparities of breast cancer survivors. To support this timely project, Dr. Hu and the group of experts were awarded a grant from the Leslie and Loretta Copeland Foundation. Each year, the foundation sponsors and supports projects from organizations and institutions that are passionate about making a difference in the community.

The group of experts that will work alongside Dr. Hu will include Miller School of Medicine’s Taghrid Asfar, Ph.D., research assistant professor, David Lee, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, Wayway Hlaing, Ph.D., professor, Ana Palacio, M.D., M.P.H., professor of clinical medicine, and Paulo Pinheiro, Ph.D., research associate professor.

“The anticipated outcomes will facilitate exposure reduction in high-risk breast cancer survivors, rapid detection of infection, reduce stress, and minimize COVID-19 related morbidity and mortality,” said Dr. Hu. 

Using data from previous studies by Dr. Hu and the research team, 316 breast cancer survivors who are predicted to have worse clinical outcomes if infected with COVID-19 will participate in the project. They are 65 years of age or older, have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or lung diseases. 

To conduct the project, researchers will:

  • Screen participants for symptoms related to COVID-19
  • Investigate how quality of life was impacted by the pandemic using the electronic version of the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Breast questionnaire
  • Provide support to address patient’s needs, concerns, and access to COVID-19 screening, treatment, and vaccination of participants

The outcomes of this project will address critical COVID-19-related morbidity, mortality and health disparities in breast cancer survivors.

“To expand COVID-19 vaccination as an important tool to help improve the clinical outcomes of breast cancer survivors and halt the COVID-19 pandemic, we must first provide answers to the most frequently asked questions about COVID-19 infection and vaccination, overcome barriers, address safety concerns, and promote this high-risk population to make informed decisions to receive the COVID-19 vaccination,” said Dr. Hu.

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on February 26, 2021