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CRCHD Grantee, Dr. Sora Park Tanjasiri, Designs a Socially Supported Intervention to Increase Cervical Cancer Screening Among Pacific Islanders

Sora Park Tanjasiri, Dr.PH, M.P.H.

With the support of an NCI-CRCHD R01 grant, Sora Park Tanjasiri, DrPH, MPH, director of the Health Promotion Research Institute, California State University, in Fullerton, and professor in the Department of Health Science, is teaching and conducting research focusing on community health promotion among diverse populations, particularly Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Her current research is examining the effectiveness of using Pacific Island churches and family clans to recruit women and their husbands, and educate them about the importance of getting Pap tests to prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. It is estimated that 12,340 women will be diagnosed with and 4,030 women will die from the disease in 2013. Pap tests can prevent cervical cancer incidence and mortality in all populations through early detection and surgical removal of precancerous lesions.

Tanjasiri is working together with the Samoan National Nurses Association, Tongan Community Service Center/Special Services for Groups, and the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance. To date, she has recruited and educated 350 women and men, out of a total targeted sample size of 1,040 Chamorros (indigenous people from Guam and the Mariana Islands), Samoans, and Tongans in Southern California. Preliminary data analyses suggest that social support from husbands is predictive of wives' Pap testing behavior, according to Tanjasiri.

Tanjasiri has found that Pacific Islanders face more barriers when it comes to getting Pap smears and cervical cancer screenings than the general California population. Those barriers include the following:

  • Cultural modesty
  • Language barriers (most Samoans and Tongans prefer to speak their own languages)
  • Patients' fear of finding they have cancer or something else wrong
  • Unavailability of Pacific Islander and female doctors who understand the language and cultural issues
  • Family priorities that place husbands' and children's health over women's
  • Lack of health insurance and out-of-pocket cost of Pap test
  • Logistical barriers such as lack of transportation and childcare

Using funds from an NCI-CRCHD U54 grant, Tanjasiri is also addressing larger education and training needs among Chamorro, Marshallese, Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, and other Pacific Islanders in Southern California.

Weaving an Islander Network for Cancer Awareness, Research, and Training (WINCART) is a Community Network Program Center (CNP-C) at California State University comprising six community-based organizations and researchers from three universities. WINCART's goal is the reduction of disparities in cancer incidence and mortality among these diverse populations. Using the principles of community-based participatory research, the WINCART Center conducts research, training, implementation, and evaluation of community education to promote beneficial biomedical and behavioral procedures.

Tanjasiri received her Master's degree in Behavioral Sciences and Doctoral degree in Community Health Sciences from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has published more than 50 scientific articles and contributed to six book chapters. She is also the recipient of more than a dozen honors and awards, and is a member of numerous medical and scientific associations, and community boards.

Updated: 01/10/14