Population Health and Cancer Control

Program Leaders:  Steven Branstetter, Ph.D. and Joshua Muscat, Ph.D.
The goal of the PHCC program is to conduct innovative research and control measures that can reduce the incidence and mortality from cancer in Pennsylvania and nationally.  The overall leading causes of cancer are tobacco use and poor nutrition. Obesity, alcohol, infectious agents and air pollution also play a role in specific cancers. The effects of these causes on cancer outcomes vary across diverse demographic groups, and the PHCC seeks to understand and develop approaches to limit their impact on cancer risk especially in high risk individuals and communities.

The specific aims of the PHCC Program are:
  1. Determine factors responsible for disparities in risk for cancer in vulnerable and disadvantage populations across the age-spectrum within the PSCI catchment area.  Develop and test intervention strategies focused on modifiable risk factors such as physical activity, nutrition, and alcohol and tobacco use behavior.
  2. Develop safe and potent synthetic agents based on known mechanistic pathways to reduce cancer risk and recurrence.  Uncover the mechanisms of dietary or nutritional risk factors for cancer in animal or human studies.
  3. Determine the biological, economic and social basis of tobacco use using novel methodologies, and determine the impact of alternative vs. conventional nicotine-delivery products on tobacco used and cancer risk.

The Community Sciences and Health Outcomes Core (CSHO) is the primary resource by which the PHCC Program supports research development. Directed by Dr. Eugene J. Lengerich since 2010, the mission of the  CSHO Core is to facilitate the community-based and health-outcomes research of investigators at Penn State.  The CSHO has expertise in research related to community engagement, epidemiology, health services, patient-reported outcomes, and dissemination. The CSHO Core uses a community-engaged approach with culturally diverse populations, including Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic individuals. Unlike many NCI-designated cancer centers which are located in an urban setting, the PSCI catchment area includes communities widely disbursed along the urban-rural continuum – ranging from small cities with an urban population to isolated rural communities. The CSHO core also maintains a repository of state and national data from clinical, registry and survey studies; the repository is used by investigators for descriptive analysis in research proposals and studies. The CSHO Core is co-located on the third floor of the Penn State Cancer Institute and the second floor of the Academic Support Building.

The CSHO Core coordinates two community/academic partnerships, the Northern Appalachia Cancer Network (NACN) and the Harrisburg Community Cancer Network (HCCN).  The mission of each network is to develop, test and disseminate evidence-based strategies that reduce the risk of cancer and poor cancer outcomes among medically underserved populations. Each network has a Community Advisory Board that directs and monitors its activities. Established in 1992 and continuously funded by the National Cancer Institute since that time, the NACN is focused upon cancer control among residents of northern Appalachia, which include 52 of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania and 14 of the 62 counties in New York. With over 30 manuscripts in the scientific literature, the NACN was recognized nationally in 2009 by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities for its engaged scholarship in cancer prevention and control. Established in 2008, the HCCN works with community-based organizations, hospitals, clinics, and government entities in the city of Harrisburg, the state capital of Pennsylvania.  In 2011, Harrisburg had a population of 49,528, with 52.4% being African American and 18.0% Latino/Hispanic; 30.2% were below the federal poverty level. In 2011, the HCCN was funded by the American Cancer Society to establish a network of Community Health Workers as trained lay health educators and advocates for residents of the city of Harrisburg.