Patient Advocates Join Researchers to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities

Cancer patient advocates take on many roles in their communities. They may go out to churches to promote the benefits of cancer screening, lead patient and survivor support groups, or offer a patient’s perspective on review panels that evaluate research grants. Many times, an experience with cancer pushes people to accept advocacy roles to fill some unmet need or simply to give back.

All of these efforts were on display at this year’s American Association for Cancer Research Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved in New Orleans Nov. 2-5. Opening the conference, 10 patient survivors and caregivers of various ethnicities and types of cancers took to the stage to describe how cancer has changed them and what cancer research has given them personally.

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Conference Set to Present the Latest Research and Developments on Cancer Health Disparities

When Michael Lawing was diagnosed with stage 3 renal cell carcinoma in 1997, he knew almost nothing about the disease.

Neither did his local urologist in rural North Carolina.

Within three years, Lawing’s cancer metastasized. His local doctor referred him to a specialist in Charlotte. Under his care, Lawing began a clinical trial of an immunotherapeutic drug. His cancer stabilized. Over the past two decades, he has experienced several recurrences of cancer, but a steady stream of newly approved treatments, most recently the immunotherapeutic Opdivo (nivolumab), have kept his disease under control. He is currently monitored with quarterly CT scans, but is taking no additional medication and experiences no symptoms or side effects.

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Cultivating a More Diverse Scientific Work Force

The U.S. Latino population surged 243 percent from 1980 to 2010. But in the same time span, the Latino physician work force dropped from 135 to 105 physicians per 100,000, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the University of California, Los Angeles.

This decline is alarming. It means that the growing Latino population does not get culturally competent care needed to improve patient health outcomes.

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Broadening Clinical Trial Participation

Patient enrollment in clinical trials has long been on the minds of oncologists and researchers. In 1990, fewer than 3 percent of patients were enrolled in clinical trials—which spurred then president-elect of the American Cancer Society, Walter Lawrence Jr., MD, to write an editorial calling for more concerted efforts. More than 25 years later, clinical trial participation hovers around 5 percent.

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Charting the Future of Cancer Health Disparities Research

Yesterday, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) joined the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in releasing a joint position statement to guide the future of cancer health disparities research.

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