SAS and VCU Massey Cancer Center to explore disparities in cancer rates and mortality among vulnerable populations

Massey hopes to create shared data environment for cancer centers across the US

The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center is working with SAS® Health to use health analytics to power vital research into higher cancer and mortality rates among low-income and vulnerable populations. Massey’s breakthrough approach to cancer research includes engaging with the community to find new data, which makes disadvantaged populations a partner in confronting the cancer disparities that affect them. This creates a data challenge that analytics leader SAS is well-equipped to handle.

Massey is Virginia’s pre-eminent cancer research center and one of 71 National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer centers in the United States. Robert A. Winn, M.D., Director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at VCU Massey, understands that data and analytics will be critical to ensuring all people have access to and receive the right levels of care.

“To understand why certain groups of people are being hit harder by different types of cancer, we need data that represents those people and the means to make sense of it,” said Winn. “This information is critical to empowering underserved patient populations, improving health care delivery and ensuring equal access to treatment.”

People with low or no income, lower educational attainment levels and other social disadvantages often bear a greater burden of disease than the general population. They may lack health insurance and have limited or no access to effective health care. They are less likely to have routine examinations that can identify cancer earlier.

Cultivating community data to improve cancer research

Massey’s Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research team engages with community partners and citizens to collect data and gain a deeper understanding of how cancer manifests in vulnerable and lower socioeconomic populations.  For patients and their communities, this creates systems where the creation and use of new evidence is done with them rather than conducting research about them.

With the help of SAS for health and academic research, this data can be integrated with other data sources to create a more holistic and meaningful view of cancer's effects. Data may include:

  • Risk factors associated with cancer, such as aging, weight, tobacco and alcohol use, sun exposure, air and water quality, family history, diet and physical activity.
  • Locations of health care facilities and services in proximity to Massey populations.
  • Cancer statistics, including number of cases, morbidity, mortality, quality of life after treatment, screening rates and stage at diagnosis.
  • Disparities, including by geography (urban versus rural), race and ethnicity, and income.

Deploying health analytics to power new research and a national network

SAS and Massey will create the Massey Research Analytics Hub, a secure, cloud-based platform using SAS® Viya® on Azure with easy-to-use visualizations of massive amounts of quantitative and qualitative data collected from different sources and different systems. This “one-stop shop” will empower researchers to create and share new breakthroughs and encourage collaboration across the cancer research ecosystem to transform health outcomes.

SAS will speed research efforts by automating manual, time-consuming data management, analytical and data visualization processes. The Hub will allow researchers to communicate and translate data and discoveries, making evidence of risk factors, disparities, along with effective treatments and interventions equally accessible, understandable and usable by all stakeholders. The Hub will soon add AI- and machine learning-powered analytics for greater and deeper insights into cancer data.

Looking forward, Massey has a bold vision of a shared network used by all NCI designated cancer centers that can expand and coordinate research into cancer disparities beyond Virginia.

“SAS can help Massey scale and operationalize its vision and propel it to be a national leader in drug discovery, cancer treatment and health equity,” said Steve Kearney, Medical Director at SAS.

A legacy of health research and partnerships

SAS is a leader in the health analytics market, delivering solutions that improve population health and advance patient outcomes in the age of digital health. In addition to advancing cancer research through things like the CEO Roundtable on Cancer’s Project Data Sphere®, SAS has been at the forefront of COVID research in areas such as antivirals, testing and health inequities.

SAS supports health care customers in 49 countries, including 100% of Fortune Global 500 health and life science companies. In addition, SAS is used at more than 3,000 educational institutions, including many academic medical centers.

About VCU Massey Cancer Center

VCU Massey Cancer Center is working toward a future without cancer – one discovery, one successful therapy and one life saved at a time. Among the top 4 percent of cancer centers in the country to be designated by the National Cancer Institute to lead and shape America’s cancer research efforts, Massey is dedicated to saving and improving lives by discovering, developing, delivering and teaching effective means to prevent, detect and treat cancer and to making those advancements equally available to all. Massey is leading the nation in establishing a 21st-century model of equity for cancer research and care, in which the community is informing and partnering with Massey on its research to best address the cancer burden and disparities of those the cancer center serves. Massey conducts cancer research spanning basic, translational, clinical and population sciences; offers state-of-the-art cancer therapies and clinical trials, including a network that brings trials to communities statewide; provides oncology education, teaching and training; and promotes cancer prevention. At Massey, subspecialized oncology experts collaborate in multidisciplinary teams to provide award-winning, comprehensive cancer care at multiple sites throughout Virginia. Visit Massey online at or call 877-4-MASSEY for more information.

About SAS

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With health analytics from SAS, Massey will incorporate data from the community to explore cancer's disparate effects on populations