USC physical therapy researcher to join interdisciplinary effort to study colorectal cancer’s effects on young people

Assistant Professor of Research Christina Dieli-Conwright awarded $25K to study how physical function, body composition and certain biomarkers are affected by cancer treatment.

BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14
January 31, 2019

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States.

And while most think of it primarily as an older person’s disease, it’s actually young people who are increasingly being affected, which could be associated with obesity, sedentary lifestyles and poor diets.

It’s this adolescent and young adult population (ages 15-39) that is the target of an interdisciplinary study at USC examining the medical, psychosocial and physical issues surrounding colorectal cancer and its treatment.

For the longitudinal study, researchers will examine 117 young colorectal patients and survivors at the time of their diagnosis, and then again three and six months after active treatment begins.

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The interdisciplinary team — consisting of biokinesiology, preventive medicine, epidemiology and medical oncology — hope to better understand the patient population’s symptom burden and medical problems; health-related quality of life; and physical function, body composition and blood biomarkers.

It’s this last piece that Assistant Professor of Research Christina Dieli-Conwright (and Assistant Professor of Clinical Preventive Medicine Kimberly Miller, serving as co-principal investigator) recently received $25K from the Cancer Center Programmatic Support Funds to examine.

Patients will visit Dieli-Conwright’s research lab, the Integrative Center for Oncology Research in Exercise, where researchers will test their physical functionality; body composition; and blood biomarkers associated with diabetes, heart disease, inflammation and obesity.

Dieli-Conwright hopes that by better understanding how colorectal cancer, its treatment and associated lifestyle modifications affect this population that this study could lead researchers to be able to create targeted, individualized interventions to not only decrease any negative side effects associated with treatment but also improve this group’s survivorship.

“Improving survivorship in this young population can have profound health benefits that may extend survival and enhance quality of life,” Dieli-Conwright says. “This truly speaks to why we do what we do as researchers- to positively change the lives’ of the patients.

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