Katherine Tossas, PhD, MS

Cervical cancer can be prevented with regular exams that detect precancerous lesions. However, these lesions are common and their progression to cancer is uncertain, resulting in unnecessary invasive procedures such as biopsies and their associated consequences of pain, bleeding, and scarring. Black women are disproportionately affected by these lesions and respective consequences. Black women also have different vaginal microbiomes (VMB) than their white counterparts. The VMB, comprising microorganisms in the vagina, has been linked to these lesions and could be a target for improved screening.

Our preliminary data suggests that the VMB’s protective effect may be influenced by race. To understand whether racially distinct pathways contribute to precancerous lesions and what factors influence them, we will recruit 90 Black and 90 white women with abnormal cervical cancer screenings. We will analyze VMB profiles, HPV viral load, and stress levels at two timepoints. Our goals are to determine if racial differences exist in HPV and VMB dynamics and assess the role of stress in disparities of lesion regression. We will also explore how HPV and VMB changes mediate the stress-regression relationship differently based on race.

This research will improve our understanding of the impact of VMB, HPV, and stress on lesion regression and racial disparities. By uncovering these factors, we can develop targeted interventions to improve the health outcomes of all women.

Location: VCU Massey Cancer Center - Richmond
Proposal: Elucidating the influence of the vaginal microbiome and stress-response pathways on racial disparities in precancerous cervical lesions
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