Discussion highlights successful strategies for addressing cancer health disparities

Researchers are working to address the cancer disparities that persist across racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic lines, according to a press conference held at the 2010 AACR Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities.

In a discussion of contributing factors and successful strategies to address cancer health disparities, researchers presented data from their studies.

In one study, researchers from Fox Chase Cancer Center disseminated a community-engaging wellness program among 39 churches to help promote healthier eating habits in the African-American community. The goal was to get churches to include fruits and vegetables at various events and activities including a series of sermons from pastors, healthy snack giveaways at church services, and heart-healthy meal options for large church gatherings.  

“There is a lot of research that shows that a faith-based approach in the African-American community is very important because of the importance of the church within the social fabric of that community,” said Linda Fleisher, MPH, assistant vice president of the office of health communications and health disparities at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

A second study, presented by Pamela Hull, PhD, associate director of the Center for Health Research at Tennessee State University, reported data on using social marketing interventions to increase Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination among Hispanic girls. The study involved creating partnerships with community organizations and other universities to develop and implement the research.

“We developed an intervention using the social marketing approach, combining that message with traditional marketing techniques for selling products,” said Dr. Hull. “Instead of selling products, we are telling people to do something. And in this particular intervention, we are trying to encourage parents to take their daughters to get vaccinated with the HPV vaccine.”

Dr. Hull explained that addressing the issue of parents coming to the United States for a better life for themselves and their families resonated with the audience. Part of that mission is ensuring good health so they and their children can achieve their goals.

In another study, researchers explored strategies for communicating prevention and early detection messaging to minority and low-income populations. For their study, a public health message was tested using the “personal narrative” style and a video was recorded of Steve Harvey, a popular comedian and talk show host, using humor to discuss his own colonoscopy. 

“We combined two elements: storytelling and celebrity. We gave Steve Harvey, who is a well-known celebrity, some key talking points and asked him to build a story around his personal experience leading up to and after his colonoscopy. He used language, cadence, and symbolism that are relevant particularly to African-American men. He was speaking to women as well, to convey the importance of colon cancer screening as part of his responsibility for taking care of his family,” explained Linda Blount, MPH, national vice president of health disparities at the American Cancer Society.

Blount reported that the video has been well received and successful and that the health care system “still needs to make a concerted effort to ensure its practice and materials are culturally and linguistically appreciated.”

For another study, presented by Shalewa Noel-Thomas, PhD, MPH, the program manager of the Tampa Bay Community Cancer Network at the Moffit Cancer Center, researchers developed a program to assess community members' perceptions, knowledge of, and attitudes toward biobanking, specifically specimen collection.

“We provided educational sessions to our group about what biobanking is because we thought perhaps there might be members in the group who were not aware what biobanking was and we wanted to enhance their knowledge,” explained Dr. Noel-Thomas. “In addition to educational sessions for community members, we also conducted a tour of the biobanking facilities at the Moffit Cancer Center and this, as you can imagine, really brought the topic up close and personal for a lot of our community partners. Just giving them the opportunity to see the facility, to see the repositories, to see where tissue and other specimens are stored in the hospital enhanced their understanding of the topic,” she concluded.

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