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Building on basics Prostate Puzzle

Srinivasan Vijayakumar was sitting in a quiet conference room at Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center on the South Side of Chicago some 12 years ago, a spreadsheet of prostate cancer data on the table before him. The spreadsheet laid out vital statistics, including ethnicity and PSA test results, for the 100 or so men treated for prostate cancer at the hospital over the previous two years. It seemed to Vijayakumar, as he scanned the spreadsheet, that PSA levels were consistently higher in the African-American patients.

Vijayakumar, then a professor of radiation and cellular oncology at the University of Chicago, was intrigued. The PSA, a blood test used to detect prostate cancer, was relatively new at the time; no ethnic variations in the test had ever been reported.

“I ran to the physics room and pulled out a calculator,” he recalls. The calculator quickly confirmed his suspicion. The average PSA for the African-American men on the spreadsheet was two times that of the Caucasian men.

That conference-room observation became the basis of a 1992 article by Vijayakumar in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention; it was the first scientific paper to report on racial differences in PSA levels among men with prostate cancer. The observation also sparked Vijayakumar’s career-long interest in understanding and eliminating ethnic disparities in cancer, a research focus he carried with him to UC Davis.

One of the nation’s lead- ing radiation oncologists, Vijayakumar joined UC Davis Cancer Center as professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology late last year. He also serves as medical director of the cancer center’s two regional affiliates, Mercy Cancer Center in Merced and Fremont-Rideout Cancer Center in Marysville.


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