Cancer experts address racial 

differences in cancer rates

By Eliza Bussey (Reuters Health)

In an effort to discover why cancer disproportionately affects different ethnic and economically disadvantaged groups, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) unveiled its $60 million ``Special Populations Network Initiative'' at a press conference April 6, 2000.

Over the next 5 years, 18 grants at 17 institutions around the country will create or implement cancer control, prevention, research and training programs in minority and underserved populations in an effort to reduce the disparity that currently exists between these populations and the general population.

``This initiative is one of the largest of its kind in the federal government. It is designed to encourage people from the community to work with scientists to find ways of addressing important questions about the burden of cancer in minority communities,'' said NCI Director, Dr. Richard D. Klausner, during the press conference.

Dr. Elmer E. Huerta, director of Washington Hospital Centers' Cancer Risk Assessment and Screening Center, is one of the grant recipients. He says his grant will be used to help promote cancer awareness, behavior change and participation in clinical trials among the half million Central and South Americans in the Washington, DC area.

Huerta said the grants are unique because they will stress a more 'holistic' approach to understanding and treating cancer. ''While it is crucial to understand what kind of oncogenes (cancer-causing genes) or hormonal receptors are present in a patient's breast cancer so we can provide a tailored chemotherapy; it is also very important to understand why 'Mrs. Green' let her tumor grow, in spite of being insured. What kind of barriers, fears, beliefs, or sentiments prevented 'Mrs. Green' from taking action?'' he said.

Dr. Harold Freeman, chairman of the President's Cancer Panel, said the grants are aimed at getting cancer education, prevention and treatment messages out to more people.

``Lack of information is a dangerous thing -- especially when you hear misinformation within a community,'' he said. Freeman encouraged reaching deeper into communities to ``dispel the myths and misinformation that keep many people too afraid to seek treatment,'' he said.

Grants were given to groups ranging from improving cancer awareness among the American Samoans, native Hawaiians, African Americans, Appalachians, American Indians, Asians, and Latinos across the country.

The NCI and the National Institutes of Health jointly fund the project. Cancer is one of six focus areas targeted by the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health.

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