Dr. Duncan PRIME grant

By Candace Gwaltney

Dec. 8, 2022

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer mortality in the United States and disproportionately affects Black individuals. Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center physician-scientist Francesca Duncan, M.D., is determined to change that through her research on health disparities and lung cancer.

“Despite advances in early lung cancer detection through screening with low-dose CT scans, Black individuals continue to have the highest incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups affected by this disease,” Duncan explains.

“When I see my patients in clinic, I talk with them about disparities in lung cancer and risk factors pertaining to the development of this disease, because there are a lot of misconceptions around smoking and lung cancer,” she said. “The message I like to convey is that if you have lungs, you can develop lung cancer.”

Duncan’s research has shown that social determinants of health play a role in lung cancer incidence, treatment and mortality. She described social determinants of health as things within a person’s environment that contribute to the health of the individuals, such as having limited access to healthcare, growing up in poverty, education attainment, insurance status, and radon or secondhand smoke exposure.

Regarding health disparities in lung cancer, Black individuals have worse survival rates and are more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options may be limited. That's why my research is crucial.

Francesca Duncan, MD