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NCI Director's Brief

From: Dr. John Niederhuber

Sent: Friday, July 20, 2007

Subject: Confronting Cancer Health Disparities

Earlier this week, NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD), along with two NIH centers, the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the National Center for Research Resources, hosted the 2007 Cancer Health Disparities Summit. The three-day meeting featured an impressive roster of more than 700 attendees, including investigators, healthcare professionals, community partners, program managers, project staff, and civic leaders.

Health disparities are about unacceptable inequalities in health outcomes that are experienced by certain groups. Racial and ethnic minorities, residents of rural areas, women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities all experience disproportionate burdens of disease, including cancer. While many of the factors that influence health disparities are inalterable, other aspects, such as access to care, education, and language capacity can be confronted to reduce this problem. Studies addressing disparities in terms of cancer incidence and survival must not only address inherited germline disparities; they must study factors that influence behavioral and environmental exposure.

NCI grantees were front and center during the sessions of the summit, discussing collaborations and partnerships; communications and bioinformatics; community engagement; managing and sustaining programs; and training and education.

In closing remarks on Wednesday, I spoke about some of the exciting science that promises, in the years ahead, to transform the practice of medicine, when both patients and tumors will be precisely characterized by their genetic profiles. Knowledge of cancer at its molecular level will facilitate earlier interventions, less toxic treatments, and new methods of prevention. Yet, as we discussed, NCI must make sure that personalized medicine reaches all patients, not just a fortunate few.

Toward that end, research into a range of disparities issues figures prominently in the just launched NCI Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP) pilot, which specifies that 40 percent of funding dollars should go to disparities research.

That research necessity was echoed yet again during a roundtable with the Community Networks Program (CNP), an NCI-funded group of 25 institutions that work to reduce disparities through community-based, participatory research, education, and training. It was particularly gratifying to hear CNP investigators expressing their strong desires to do more, to be more intertwined with NCI, and to help strengthen the NCCCP program.

Grantees who are working in communities to reduce cancer health disparities through transdisciplinary initiatives such as the CNP, the Patient Navigation Research Program, and the Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities are crucial partners in our goal of making sure the exciting science happening here at NCI reaches all patients.

Thanks go to Dr. Sanya Springfield, director of CRCHD, and her staff, for an exceptional meeting that demonstrated the importance of communication and collaboration in surmounting challenges that we must confront.

Updated: 05/16/13