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Vol. LVIII, No. 16
August 11, 2006

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Cancer Disparities Summit Draws Researchers

The National Cancer Institute and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Dispari-ties partnered to hold a first-of-its-kind "Cancer Health Disparities Summit 2006" to engage broader participation within extramurally funded cancer health disparity researchers.

The July 17-19 meeting included 700 cancer researchers, health professionals and community health educators involved nationwide in disparities research, training, education and outreach programs; they addressed the burden of cancer in underserved populations and communities. The programs under discussion represented some of the most effective and promising ones, including the Community Networks Program, the Patient Navigation Research Program, Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities, among others.

Lee Moultrie II (r), a community outreach coordinator with the University of South Carolina Community Network, addresses the summit.  

The goal was to facilitate networking, disseminate knowledge about the variety of programs currently under way, strengthen collaborations and forge new relationships, enable participants to share strategies and provide solutions. NCI leadership met with attendees to address concerns over what impact recent budget cuts and reallocations may have on achieving goals during periods of fiscal constraint.

There were more than 40 speakers on the program, including former HHS secretary Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, now of Morehouse School of Medicine; Dr. John Niederhuber, acting NCI director; Dr. Mark Clanton, NCI deputy director; Dr. John Ruffin, NCMHD director; and Dr. Sanya Springfield, acting director of NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities.

"We are rapidly transitioning into a new era of highly personalized medicine in which our future success in eliminating the burden of cancer will depend significantly upon our ability to rapidly and seamlessly bring the best of our scientific discovery to patients in the communities where they live," said Niederhuber. "Disparities are not just about socio-economics or education. Age, given our rapidly aging population, constitutes, in my mind, a huge disparities issue."

Dr. Sanya Springfield, acting director of the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, speaks at the summit.  
Ruffin told attendees: "The partnership (between NCI and NCMHD) represented a true spirit of collaboration among NIH institutes and centers and among their grantees. The summit set the foundation for similar forums that will be emerging across the NIH in the coming months, such as the first in a series of three trans-NIH health disparities research forums being coordinated by the NCMHD."

He added, "The NIH is doing some impressive work in health disparities research at the academic and community levels and it's time that we start showcasing the progress we are making. We also have to continue working together to strengthen our partnership base and leverage our resources to sustain the good models that exist."

NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, headed by Springfield, "continues to be a bright beacon of hope for underserved populations who carry a heavy cancer burden," Clanton said.

"Addressing cancer disparities is woven tightly into the fabric of our agenda here at NCI," he continued. "Three years ago, NCI renewed its commitment to fighting cancer disparities when we set out on an ambitious course to eliminate suffering and death due to cancer. The course we charted was based on a handful of key strategic priorities that guide us — from finding ways to better harness advanced technologies for the purpose of fighting cancer to improving our clinical trials system. Reducing cancer disparities is one of our core priorities," he added.

Summit participants included Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Alaska Natives and Pacific Islanders and the rural poor.

Kenton J. Laffoon, Sr., of the Mohave tribe from the Colorado River Indian Reservation, representing the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., said there are many issues still affecting the American Indian. "American Indians are being lost in the system as our research projects are being underfunded," he charged. "Transportation to major medical centers is a key problem that remains to be solved as well as cancer treatment follow-up once a Native American patient is diagnosed.

"Without a patient navigator research program to guide Native Americans through the myriad tests and treatments, these patients are all too inclined to discontinue treatment when the cancer is still treatable." Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the Native American population.

"I believe this summit will be a historic one as we look back on the strides we have made in cancer disparities. It is also a time to look ahead to the promise of progress to come with our continued collaborations," concluded Clanton.

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