Investigating Inequities in Survival Outcomes After Cancer Treatment

July 24, 2019
Dr. Justine Kahn is studying why certain children fare better than others following treatment for cancer

While nearly 90 percent of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and Hodgkin lymphoma achieve excellent long-term survival with contemporary cancer therapy, recent studies suggest that certain factors, specifically age over 15 years, low socioeconomic status, and non-Hispanic black and Hispanic race/ethnicity are associated with worse outcomes. These disparities are particularly striking in diseases like ALL and Hodgkin lymphoma, where survival rates are generally outstanding. 

Justine Kahn, MD, MS, a pediatric oncologist and clinical investigator in the Division of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology & Stem Cell Transplantation at Columbia, is actively conducting research through studies developed in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), the Children's Oncology Group (COG), and at Columbia University. Her primary research focus is on survival disparities in pediatric and adolescent/young adult patients with ALL and Hodgkin lymphoma, and she has additional expertise in cancer care delivery and health inequity in children and adolescent/young adults (AYA) with acute leukemia and both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Dr. Kahn is a passionate champion of health equity and childhood cancer outcomes. About her research, she notes, “I seek to answer questions that have actionable answers: Do all patients receive therapy that is in line with the current standard of care? Does treatment location or hospital-type impact outcome? How does distance from home to treating facility influence quality of care in children and AYAs with hematologic malignancies? If survival disparities can be partially explained by healthcare inequities, this can inform policy, mandate efforts to improve access to high-quality cancer care, and reduce survival disparities in our most vulnerable patient populations going forward.” 

In addition to her health outcomes research and active clinical practice, Dr. Kahn serves as the principal investigator (PI) for the DFCI ALL Consortium at Columbia University and is thus in charge of the current phase 3 trial in children and adolescents with ALL. She is also the site PI for the Histiocyte Society and runs the current International phase 3 trial for children with Langerhans cell histiocytosis. Dr. Kahn’s work is supported in part by the Lymphoma Research Foundation and she recently received an Institutional Career Development Award for her ongoing work on survival disparities in children and AYAs with hematologic malignancies. 

Dr. Kahn earned her MD from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, graduating as a member of the Arnold P. Gold Humanism in Medicine and Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Societies. She completed her Pediatric Residency at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital and her Clinical Fellowship in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. During her fellowship, Dr. Kahn served as a postdoctoral research fellow in cancer-related population sciences and was supported by the National Cancer Institute for her work in cancer care delivery, health equity, and health outcomes. She earned a master of science in patient-oriented research from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in 2018.