Message from the Associate Director for Cancer Disparities Research: Monica Webb Hooper, PhD
On March 1, 2019, over 200 people convened in the state-of-the-art Tinkham Veale University Center on the Case Western Reserve University campus for the 3rd Annual Cancer Disparities Symposium “Eliminating Cancer Disparities: Staying the Course Toward Collective Impact.” The phrase, “stay the course,” used historically in the context of battle, refers to a concentrated effort to persist through obstacles and challenges. This exemplifies what is necessary to achieve the goal of disparity elimination in all domains. In its third year, the Cancer Disparities Symposium served to educate, motivate and inspire those in attendance. We were delighted to welcome researchers, clinicians, health professionals, community outreach teams, patient advocates, trainees and key stakeholders from community-based organizations, local government, private foundations and commercial businesses – representing seven states. We discussed the current landscape of cancer disparities research across the continuum, from basic, clinical and community sciences. We shared ideas and laid the foundation for new partnerships. The energy and collaborative spirit exhibited throughout the day across the many sectors of our local and national community were transformational.
There were many highlights of this year’s symposium. The distinguished scientific keynote by Rick Kittles, PhD, Associate Director of Health Equities, at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center was an impactful and memorable presentation on the role of genetic ancestry in cancer disparities. Our impressive plenary speaker, Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD, Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), gave a remarkable address focused on the roles of race, ethnicity and social class in cancer disparities and underlined funding opportunities available to support minority health and health disparities science. Our thematic areas included precision medicine and population differences, specifically, the application of computational biology and imaging to understanding cancer outcomes among African Americans, clinical and community-based research centered in areas such as breast cancer disparities among Hispanics, the promotion of access to healthy food and the consequences of overly restrictive clinical trial enrollment criteria.
This year, for the second time, we released a call for abstracts to learn about the latest scientific efforts and community-based programs. I am elated to report that we had a 195% increase in abstract submissions! This is a measurable indication of the growing momentum for disseminating the disparities-related work happening in our region and beyond. In addition, I was excited about the diversity of research and programming, which included cancer screening and early detection, lifestyle and behavioral interventions to reduce cancer risk in priority populations, premature aging as a cancer risk factor in people living with HIV, understanding the geospatial distribution of mammogram facilities, cancer disparities in LGBTQ populations, clinical trial recruitment challenges and strategies, cancer screening approaches for victims of sex trafficking, programming for children coping with parental cancer and many other topics. Once again, our unique poster session format exceeded its goal of true academic-community engagement – which must be extended in future meetings. This message would be remiss without mention of our superb community program oral presentations which added a very real and human context to the science presented. I could literally feel the emotion in the ballroom as these profound programs were described.
There are many other highlights to share as I reflect on the event, but I will mention just one more. I shared our progress on the Forward Movement Project, which is now completing Phase II. This project grew organically from ideas shared at the 1st Annual Cancer Disparities Symposium in 2017, particularly centered on the importance of community trust. As much as we celebrate our collective work, we must remember that community buy-in and confidence is essential to progress in eliminating disparities. Phase II findings from a user-generated intervention demonstrate the importance of patient-provider relationships and honest discussions in increasing trust. Special thanks to the organizations, physicians, nurses, social workers, patient navigators, outreach managers and research staff who joined our Community Trust and Engagement Working Group out in the community for this project. We appreciate it!
This symposium has quickly become the yearly event that I look forward to the most. It would not be possible without the support of our enthusiastic attendees and sponsors (with a special thanks to our Bronze Sponsor Elephants & Tea). I would also like to recognize our abstract reviewers and our dedicated symposium planning committee: Fred Schumacher, PhD, Siran Koroukian, PhD, Vanessa Marshall, PhD, Smitha Krishnamurthi, MD, Charlene Mitchell, MBA, Lena Grafton, MPH, CHES, Chesley Cheatham, MEd, MCHES and Kishore Guda, DVM, PhD. My sincerest thanks to Case CCC Director Stan Gerson, MD, the Case CCC administrative team led by Mary Wright and Office of Cancer Disparities Research staff for their critical contributions and to the Case CCC Community Advisory Board for their guidance.
Monica Webb Hooper, PhD
Associate Director for Cancer Disparities Research
Case Comprehensive Cancer Center