UM to Study Link Between Cancer and Auto Traffic

Results of the NIH-funded study could help plan new roads, parks, neighborhoods, and schools.

(August 01, 2013) —

A professor from the University of Miami School of Business Administration, along with collaborators from the Yale School of Public Health, has received a $453,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify potential links between cancer risk and the proximity of homes to heavy automobile traffic. Although cancer epidemiologists have studied such data previously, the research was based mostly on aggregated zip code data. The new research will be based on the actual latitude and longitude of an address and will account for geocoding errors in order to produce more accurate findings. Most previous studies, even those based on street addresses, did not account for such errors, called "spatial uncertainty," which greatly compromised results.

Cancer epidemiologists can extract data from many different sources such as censuses, statewide health surveys, tumor registries and population-based case-control studies, but each source may yield data with different types of spatial uncertainty," said Yongtao Guan, professor of management science at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, and the study's lead researcher. "This usually results in biased parameter estimates, inflated standard errors, and reduced statistical power to detect clustering and trends."

By accounting for spatial uncertainty, researchers aim to produce more accurate results. The goal of the work is to develop user-friendly software that can be used by the public and/or those in public policy to assess the cancer risk in current or future living, commerce and recreational environments. For example, do those living near a major highway, where there is a higher density of auto emissions, face a higher risk of cancer? Researchers believe the identification of such links could be used to more effectively reduce the burden of the disease. The researchers are analyzing 20 to 30 years of data for people diagnosed with cancer in Connecticut for the study.

"This grant will enable us to use readily-available data to assess how one's geographical location may increase his or her cancer risk, and package it in such a way that can offer the public an understandable resource for planning new roads, parks, neighborhoods, schools, etc. with health risk in mind," said Guan. The $453,000 grant will fund the first year of the study that will continue through 2017. The expected total grant funding for the entire study period exceeds $1.7 million.

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