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Population Science and Prevention Program

Cancer’s impact on South Texas is different from other parts of the country. Our region has high rates of certain types of cancer, including liver cancer in adults and leukemia in children. Through our Population Science and Prevention program, we are taking steps to reverse the cancer trends that disproportionately affect our community.

Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, is leading basic and translational research to reduce cancer risks that are unique to South Texas.

We are the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center in Central and South Texas. This designation makes us one of only four cancer centers in Texas, and among a select number across the country, whose research excellence is recognized by the NCI. Learn more about NCI designation.

We are also one of the few NCI programs serving a population where a majority of people are minorities. Our service area is predominantly Hispanic, and a large part is rural. Our experience in caring for generations of South Texas Hispanic patients enables us to tailor research to our community’s needs.

About our population and cancer trends

Unique aspects of the South Texas population and its cancer trends include:

  • Cancer incidence: South Texas has higher incidence of certain cancer types, including liver, cervical and gastric cancer, compared to other parts of the country.
  • Race/ethnicity: The population of Texas has a higher proportion of Hispanics than other states. In the San Antonio area, nearly 7 in 10 people report as Hispanic.
  • Care access: Many people, especially in rural areas, have challenges accessing care. Access may be one reason cancer is frequently detected at later stages, when the prognosis is not as good

Population Science and Prevention focus areas

We are addressing cancer challenges in our population with research studies focusing on:

Risk factors

Researchers are exploring how ancestry affects cancer risk by analyzing genomic data (a person’s complete set of DNA). These activities are improving our understanding of liver cancer in the Hispanic patient population.

We use sophisticated laboratory technologies to pinpoint genetic traits and mutations that cause cancer to develop. We then compare race and ethnicity to detect differences in this activity.

Cancer prevention and management strategies

We are exploring new methods to slow or minimize cancer development in people diagnosed with cancer or at high risk. These methods include dietary supplements and lifestyle changes. A healthy diet and physical activity, including yoga, may play a role.

Early findings indicate that certain supplements can make conventional prostate cancer therapies more effective. And lab studies show that specific supplements and lifestyle changes may slow inflammation that can give rise to cancer.

Preventing secondary cancer in survivors

As cancer survival rates increase, there’s a growing need for services to prevent secondary cancers. These conditions may occur years after surviving a first cancer diagnosis.  

Pediatric, adolescent and young adults in our region have low (in some cases, exceptionally low) HPV vaccination rates. We developed an HPV working group and a community education campaign to improve vaccination rates. Vaccinations lower the risk of HPV cancers, which can affect the throat, cervix and other areas.

This initiative is one example of our community engagement efforts. Find out more about our Community Outreach and Engagement Program.