CECCRs Share Results and Lessons
Every week, new information about cancer is published in scientific journals. But the impact of that research falls short without methods of sharing it in a way that actually changes behavior to reduce risk, improve screening, and create access to treatments.
This is why NCI funded the Centers of Excellence in Cancer Communications Research (CECCR) in 2003. The initiative provided four university-based research centers with $10 million each over 5 years to test effective strategies for cancer communications and translate them into tools for practice.
The key to the centers, explains Dr. Bradford Hesse, who oversees the initiative and is chief of the Health Communications and Informatics Research Branch in NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, has been a transdisciplinary approach.
"The CECCRs brought communication scientists, often for the first time, into direct contact with oncologists; they put computer scientists in touch with health educators; and they allowed statisticians to work in tandem with health behavior theorists," Dr. Hesse says. "The whole purpose was to create a synergistic environment for innovation."
At the end of last month, CECCR grantees came together in Atlanta to showcase their research results to stakeholders in cancer communications from within the government and the advocacy community.
Attendees learned about tools developed by the CECCR at the University of Michigan, led by Dr. Victor Strecher, which focused on three main research studies. One project, for example, analyzed Web-based smoking cessation programs.
The University of Pennsylvania CECCR, led by Dr. Robert Hornik, focused on ways to improve public information campaigns in three projects, including one that looked at ways in which people search for cancer information.
Under Dr. Matthew Kreuter, Saint Louis University's CECCR focused three projects on cancer communications for African Americans. One of these projects tested 80 videotaped "Living Proof" testimonies from African American breast cancer survivors as a way to encourage women to get mammograms.
And at the University of Wisconsin, Dr. David Gustafson has led a center that developed computer tools to help with all aspects of a cancer diagnosis. One of these three projects evaluated whether CHESS, an interactive communication system, improved palliative care and communication between patients and their clinicians.
The CECCR initiative has not only produced new tools and peer-reviewed literature; it has sparked institutional changes. At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, 34 graduate and 14 post-graduate scholars have trained or are being trained at the CECCR and 19 have already gone on to obtain positions in the fields of public health and communications research. The center has also stimulated a shift toward research on cancer among several leading scholars at the university's Annenberg School for Communication.
The University of Wisconsin's CECCR has created very exciting opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration, says Dr. Gustafson, pointing to partnerships between the School of Pharmacy and the departments of Radiology and Computer Science as examples. "We are working much more closely than ever before with the Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center here and the Department of Psychology in particular," he adds.
There have been similar changes at the University of Michigan, notes Dr. Strecher. "An important legacy of the initiative is our open-source Michigan Tailoring System software and the weeklong Michigan Tailoring Workshop, which provides tools and training that will prepare the next generation of health communications researchers," he says.
These are exactly the kind of changes that were hoped for when the CECCR initiative began, says Dr. Hesse. Even so, "We need to solve the 'last mile problem' - that is, getting our evidence-based communications applications out of the laboratory and into the public domain."
The recent meeting in Atlanta was one step toward this goal; the next will come later this year through a second round of CECCR funding, which will have greater emphasis on projects with clinical relevance for patients across the cancer care continuum.
—Brittany Moya del Pino