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Grantee Spotlight: Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., M.P.H. - Ensuring Latina Immigrants Have Equal Breast and Cervical Cancer Care

, by CRCHD staff

Latinos are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the U.S. In Alabama alone, the number of Latino immigrants has increased more than 145% since 2010, with more than 186,000 Latinos residing in the state.

A majority of Latinos living in Alabama face significant health disparities due to low-income, language barriers and cultural differences. Isabel C. Scarinci, Ph.D., MPH is a CRCHD U54 grantee who is ensuring that this population group has access to cancer prevention and treatment. In a recent interview, Scarinci explained that Latinos living in the region have limited access to health care. In 2011, the state of Alabama drew up legislation that has had impacted access to health services among Latino immigrants. This is just one of the reasons why Scarinci has dedicated her career to serving as an advocate for Latinos so they can have equal care.

Scarinci focuses her research on applications that promote behavior change among special population groups, including low-income, racial/ethnic and immigrant populations. She has served as Associate Director, Division of Preventive Medicine, Faculty Development and Education at the University of Alabama, Birmingham since 2012. She was appointed this year as Associate Director, Globalization and Cancer to the University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. In this role, Scarinci’s main research focus of interest is on cancer prevention and control, particularly among Latinos and African Americans in the Southern states. She currently is the Co-Principal Investigator of P60 funded by the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the focus of her research project is to test the efficacy of a theory-based, culturally relevant intervention to promote HPV vaccination among daughters of Latina immigrants in Alabama. More recently, she has begun to expand the lessons learned internationally. Her current NCI R01 grant is a 5-year randomized controlled trial designed to test the efficacy of a theory-based, culturally- and gender-relevant Community Health Worker intervention for Brazilian women “light smokers” that will augment the smoking cessation programs offered through the public health system.

“Dr. Scarinci is a true leader in community-based participatory research both at home and abroad,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and also a CRHD grantee.

Scarinci credits the success of her career to NCI/CRCHD. “I am actually a product of CRCHD,” she said. “I started my career in 2000 as a CRCHD trainee under the Special Populations Network (SPN) under the mentorship of Dr. Amelie Ramirez of Redes En Acción to reduce cervical cancer rates among Latina immigrants.” She continued, “Then, I was fortunate to come to UAB and receive pilot funding from another Special Populations Network (Deep South Network for Cancer Control) under Dr. Partridge’s leadership.” The mentorship and availability of funds through these two CRCHD program led to a successful submission (and granting) of an R25 and R01 from NCI, which launched her career as an established investigator. 

She adds, “I have been fortunate to be given the opportunity to pay it forward and be actively involved in the career development of junior faculty committed to cancer disparities research.”   

A common-thread in Scarinci's research is the training of Community Health Workers in the dissemination of cancer education information, as well as train health care providers on cultural differences. Among her accomplishments is a guide and program that helps health care providers understand the needs and perspectives of their Latino immigrant patients, as well as the “Sowing the Seeds of Health” program, a community-based educational program that aims to reduce the incidence of breast and cervical cancer among Latina immigrants with the help of community health advisors or “promotoras de salud.”


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