Associate Director's Message: Reflecting on the 4th Annual Cancer Disparities Symposium

The following is a message from the Associate Director for Cancer Disparities Research, Monica Webb Hooper, PhD.

"When we talk about health disparities, we have to deal with the real issues." Yvonka M. Hall Executive Director Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition

On March 6, 2020, over 250 people convened in the state-of-the-art Tinkham Veale University Center on the Case Western Reserve University campus for the 4th Annual Cancer Disparities Symposium “Cultivating Science and Community Engagement to Address Cancer Health Disparities.” Cultivation is about promoting, fostering, nourishing, and working to make something better. This exemplifies what has occurred over the past four years in the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center (Case CCC) – our collective efforts to advance health disparities science have cultivated academic efforts to enhance our understanding of cancer-related disparities, and emphasized the importance of community engagement as a key component. The presentations from each of our speakers served to educate, motivate, and inspire us all, providing models to carry forward. We welcomed researchers, clinicians, health professionals, community outreach groups, patient advocates, trainees, and key stakeholders from community-based organizations, local government, private foundations, and commercial businesses – across 14 states.  We shared ideas and formed new connections. The energy in the room was persistent and engaging – and the concluding panel discussion challenged us to think deeper about both science and community. 

There were many highlights of this year’s symposium. The distinguished scientific keynote by Lucio Miele, MD, PhD, Professor and Department Head in the Department of Genetics at the Louisiana State University (LSU) of Medicine, and Director for Inter-Institutional Programs in the LSU Stanley Scott Cancer Center and Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium, was an exemplar of how social determinants of health play a role in breast cancer disparities. Our notable plenary speaker, Robert Croyle, PhD, Director of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences and Interim Director of the Center for Global Health at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), highlighted important resources and funding opportunities to conduct population-level cancer disparities research, while noting the complexity of addressing the needs of priority groups. One of our thematic areas included cancer disparities in vastly underserved populations, with specific foci on sexual and gender minorities, American Muslims, and the Amish and Mennonite community. This session in particular highlighted that cancer disparities are much more than Black-White differences.

This year, for the first time, we included five oral presentation sessions, selected from 80+ abstract submissions – a record! Topics included community-based programs to improve lung and breast cancer screening, the assessment of poverty, tobacco use among African Americans, disparities in dosing for rectal cancer, neighborhood disadvantage, mouse models to study multiple myeloma disparities, and many others. Once again, our unique academic-community poster session featured a diverse array of topics related to both addressing community needs (broadly) and those of populations who experience health disparities.

The symposium also honored Cheryl Lewis with the 2020 Cancer Disparities Symposium Outstanding Community Partner Award for her commitment to helping to advance cancer disparities science in the community. New this year, the Office of Cancer Disparities Research also awarded travel scholarships to promote scientific development, diversity, and inclusivity. Thank you to Eva Pardo, MPH (University of California, San Francisco), Milkie Vu (Emory University), and Norman Carl Swart, PhD (Johns Hopkins University) for joining us in Cleveland to share your research.

This symposium has been a highlight of my time at Case Western Reserve University and the Case CCC. It became the flagship event of the Office of Cancer Disparities Research, and my favorite conference of the year (although I am, admittedly, biased). It would not have been possible without the support of our enthusiastic attendees and exhibitors (with a special thanks to our Bronze sponsors Dova Pharmaceuticals and Puma Biotechnology). I would also like to recognize our abstract reviewers and our dedicated symposium planning committee: Fred Schumacher, PhD, Siran Koroukian, PhD, Vanessa Marshall, PhD, Charlene Mitchell, MBA, Lena Grafton, MPH, CHES, Chesley Cheatham, MEd, MCHES, and Zhenghe John Wang, PhD. My sincerest thanks to Stan Gerson, MD, the Case CCC administrative team, especially John Pounardjian, Mary Wright, and Gillian Irwin, the Office of Cancer Disparities Research staff, and the Case CCC Community Advisory Board for their guidance.

Signing off.


View symposium photos