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Cancer Communications Research Expanding through CIS

By Alexandra Lindemann

In step with the National Cancer Institute's intensified effort to learn how to communicate better about cancer, its Cancer Information Service is expanding its research activities. CIS is conducting cancer communications studies in collaboration with academic researchers, technology experts and regional organizations that serve minority and underserved groups.

CIS regional offices are participating in 16 communications research protocols. These include interventions testing breast and ovarian cancer genetic counseling protocols, clinical trials education for healthcare providers, and interactive web-based cancer risk assessments.

Real-World Context

Through its network of 14 regional offices serving the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, CIS interacts with cancer patients, their families and the public. It uses three principal communication channels: a telephone service (1-800-4-CANCER), the Internet, and a partnership program. Last year, 405,712 people called CIS and another 496,495 visited the CIS website. The CIS partnership program, which builds relationships with organizations across the country in order to reach underserved and special populations, responded to 12,861 requests for service.

Access to these underserved and special populations has attracted some researchers to work with CIS. "The CIS offers an especially good opportunity to do translational research, taking communication strategies, persuasion strategies, and social influence strategies with strong theoretical bases, and seeing how robust they are in a real-world context," said Dr. Peter Salovey, professor and chairman of psychology and professor of epidemiology and public health, Yale University.

Salovey is principal investigator on two research projects with CIS. The first, funded by a private foundation, is testing the effectiveness of tailoring messages about mammography to each caller's psychological style of processing health-related information. The second study is placing computers plus technical assistance in Head Start centers in New Haven, to provide access to cancer information to urban families via the Internet. The latter project is one of four NCI-supported grants to address the Digital Divide.

Bridging the Digital Divide

In September 2000, NCI announced its effort to bridge the Digital Divide that prevents underserved communities from accessing cancer information on the Internet. NCI has awarded grants of nearly $1 million to fund projects that employ the CIS, academic researchers, and community groups in five regions around the country to test strategies that expand computer access among minority and low-income populations.

One Digital Divide study is testing the CHESS Program (Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System), which places computers in the homes of breast cancer patients and provides an intranet system of health resources to educate and help them face their disease. Two CIS regional offices are working with principal investigator Dr. David H. Gustafson to study whether access to CHESS improves the women's health and well-being. The Partnership Program of the Midwest CIS is helping to recruit African-American women in Detroit to the program, and the North Central CIS is bringing the CHESS program to breast cancer patients in rural Wisconsin.

"All of us have a lot to learn about reaching the underserved," said Gustafson, professor of industrial engineering and professor of preventive medicine at the Center for Health Systems Research and Analysis at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "The CIS is open to doing research that will improve their reach into underserved communities."

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