Using a new methodology called a “neighborhood-wide association study,” researchers have identified 17 variables, out of more than 14,600, that were significantly associated with prostate cancer aggressiveness for white men in Pennsylvania.

Researchers linked data collected in the Pennsylvania State Cancer Registry from 1995 to 2005 with 14,663 neighborhood variables identified in the 2000 United States Census. They then analyzed the association between each of those variables and aggressive prostate cancer (stage > 3/Gleason grade > 7), by comparing data from 6416 white men with aggressive disease with those of 70,670 men with less aggressive disease.

Lead author Shannon Lynch, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at the Cancer Prevention and Control program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said the neighborhood-wide association study (NWAS) is a new method, which is similar to a genome-wide association study.

“Genome-wide association studies scan thousands of genetic markers at a time to look for associations between individual genes and cancer,” said Dr Lynch. “I applied the same approach to all publicly available census data, looking for an association between each of these individual variables and prostate cancer aggressiveness.”

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Dr Lynch and her team found 17 variables related to poverty, housing, employment, and immigration that were closely associated with prostate cancer aggressiveness. Neighborhood mode of transportation, specifically neighborhoods at the census tract level where a higher percentage of workers take trolleys or streetcars to work (odds ratio = 1.05; 95% CI, 1.001-1.09), had the strongest reported association with disease, which may suggest, among other reasons, that access to care plays a role in disease aggressiveness.