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Oralia Garcia Dominic, Ph.D., M.S., M.A.
Penn State

Combines Behavioral Science and Biology to Prevent Cancer in Underserved Populations

Oralia Garcia Dominic, Ph.D., M.S., M.A.

Oralia Garcia Dominic has dedicated her career to studying disparities in colorectal cancer and comorbid diabetes among Pennsylvania Latinos and adults living in rural Appalachia.

Currently, she is spearheading health disparities and health literacy interventions among urban and rural Appalachian residents across Pennsylvania for Highmark, a leading health and wellness company. Highmark Inc. is among the largest health insurers in the United States and the fourth-largest Blue Cross and Blue Shield-affiliated company. Its diversified health businesses serve group customer and individual health needs across the United States through dental insurance, vision care and other related health businesses.

Dominic is also an adjunct professor of Public Health Sciences at Penn State's Milton Hershey Medical Center, College of Medicine, and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Bio-behavioral Health at the College of Health and Human Development.

As a bio-behavioral scientist, Dominic combines behavioral science and the knowledge of molecular biology to prevent cancer in underserved populations. Her research interests include health disparities, community-based participatory research approaches to reducing cancer and co-morbid diabetes, the role of social support for improving colorectal cancer screening, and culturally appropriate interventions in health promotion.

Dominic began her research with an NCI/CRCHD U01 diversity supplement; after 18 months, her award was converted to a K01—a CURE Mentored Career Development Award—to support her research training and professional development in the area of cancer health disparities.

Dr. Dominic's K01 grant was transferred from Penn State to Allegheny Singer Research Institute (ASRI). Allegheny-Singer Research Institute (ASRI) is a non-profit, independent research institute and a member of the West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS). ASRI is responsible for managing and conducting clinical, translational and basic research. ASRI manages the sponsored awards made to WPAHS and its related entities.

"My health disparities research aims to keep individuals and their families healthy," says Dominic. "I try to find effective ways to prevent and/or delay the onset of chronic diseases like cancer and associated diabetes."

"Type 2 diabetes is associated with three of the five leading types of cancer—colorectal (CRC), pancreatic, and breast," says Dominic. The postmenopausal cancer mortality rates in the U.S. for patients with Type 2 diabetes for each of these cancers is 30% (colon), 50% (pancreatic), and 20% (breast), she adds.

"Diabetes' role in cancer survivorship is paramount, as well," says Dominic. "Cancer survivors who have diabetes have a poorer cancer prognosis than survivors who do not have diabetes."

To further understanding of the link between diabetes and CRC, Dominic has been conducting community-based research among patients with Type 2 diabetes and comorbid CRC. Her research assesses the current knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions regarding quality of care; identifies barriers to treatment; and determines effective strategies to minimize identified barriers." She has recently published results of community-based interventions that increased CRC screening rates, cancer and diabetes knowledge, and CRC early detection and survivorship.

Dominic is the recipient of more than 36 honors and awards, including an "Early Career Award" in 2012 from the International Congress of Behavioral Medicine for her K01 research work. Only 15 scientists worldwide have been honored with this award. She also received the Presidential Commendation Medal, the highest honor that the League of United Latin American Citizens gives, for her community-based outreach cancer health disparities research.

Dominic is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and scientific abstracts. She has served on various state and national committees and, in April of this year, Dominic was appointed to the Pennsylvania Cancer Control, Prevention and Research Advisory Board, an 11-member board that advises the Governor and the Secretary of Health on cancer control and prevention-related issues. She was also one of two final candidates shortlisted in March for the position of Secretary of Health for Pennsylvania.

Dominic received her B.S. in biology in 1994 from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She then earned her M.S. in nutrition in 1997 from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, and her M.A. in multidisciplinary studies with a concentration in education from the same university in 2003. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in Bio-behavioral Health in 2006 and 2008, respectively.

Updated: 01/10/14