Guest Commentary by Dr. Sanya A. Springfield
NCI Cancer Disparities Research: Sharing Ideas, Forging Partnerships
As director of NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD), I am pleased to host and welcome the hundreds of high-level cancer researchers, practitioners, trainees, students, and community activists who are gathering in Bethesda, MD, this week (July 12–15) for the CRCHD Cancer Health Disparities Program Meetings 2011.
We will share new scientific advances and help foster and expand creative and collaborative approaches to addressing cancer health disparities. The meetings are a time for our grantees to tune up and tune in with their colleagues and with NCI staff and scientists. It's also an opportunity for CRCHD staff to take the pulse of our numerous programs.
These program meetings are especially important for our research trainees, who receive guidance on grant writing, the grant review process, and improving the public presentation of their research results. Over the course of 4 days, they will experience plenary sessions on new directions in disparities research, presentations of results from numerous studies, programmatic meetings, a mock grant review session, skill-building workshops, resource and tool sharing, networking opportunities, and poster competitions.
For the first time, we are partnering with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to bring together NCI-supported disparities researchers and community outreach groups from the National Capital Area to brainstorm and discuss issues of access, research participation, and biospecimen collection for breast cancer prevention and care among diverse populations.
In addition, the meeting will focus on the influence of issues such as comorbidities, global health, and obesity on cancer health disparities. An example is the discussion of the global health implications of rising cancer rates in Africa, where infectious outbreaks and chronic diseases that are associated with a higher risk for certain cancers are more common. These issues cross national borders and create the need for a global strategy to find comprehensive solutions.
The work CRCHD has historically been involved in—community-based research—is now being complemented with basic research, revealing a more complex picture of the roots of cancer disparities. For instance, one of the plenary sessions, "Basic and Translational Research for Cancer Health Disparities," will address the growing evidence that different population groups may have biological differences that are associated with various diseases and disorders. We at CRCHD hope that this new focus on basic research will culminate in better-targeted and more-refined community outreach and medical interventions.
The American Cancer Society's (ACS) recently released 2011 Cancer Facts & Figures underscores the importance of this week's gathering. The ACS reported that, as a result of continued declines in overall cancer death rates in the United States, about 898,000 deaths from cancer were avoided between 1990 and 2007. Nevertheless, a special section of the report on cancer disparities noted that cancer death rates have diverged among subgroups of the U.S. population.
In 1993, the death rate for the least-educated black and white men was more than twice that of the most-educated men in both groups. By 2007, the difference was nearly three-fold. The report goes on to note that 37 percent—or 60,370—of the premature cancer deaths that occurred in 2007 in people 25 to 64 years of age could have been prevented if all segments of the U.S. population had the same cancer death rates as those of the most-educated whites.
CRCHD staff and our grantees are attempting to change the face of cancer research by broadening the diversity of the cancer research workforce and focusing more research on underserved populations. (See "Inspired by Science: Cancer Research Internships for Minority Students" in this issue.)
We believe that an integrative and collaborative approach is necessary to reduce cancer disparities around the world. Coming together this week helps us foster new and creative strategies and solutions for addressing, and ultimately, eliminating health disparities.
Dr. Sanya A. Springfield
Director, NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities