September 11, 2012

Nancy Solomon

New SLU Center Fights Cancer in Minorities

$1.25 Million Combined Grant from Emerson, Express Scripts Foundation and Ascension Health Launches Community Initiative

ST. LOUIS -- Saint Louis University (SLU) is creating a new cancer education, prevention and research center to improve the survival of St. Louis minorities -- particularly African-American residents of north St. Louis city and county.

Mark Varvares, M.D.

As an initiative of Saint Louis University Cancer Center and SLU's School of Public Health, the SLU Center for Cancer Prevention, Research and Outreach will join established advocacy organizations to expand screening, detection and treatment to fight cancer in members of minority groups. The Center for Cancer Prevention plans to expand its services to immigrant minorities, such as the Bosnian and Hispanic communities in St. Louis as well as African Americans.

Businesses back center

Emerson, the Express Scripts Foundation and Ascension Health are supporting the center through a combined $1.25 million, five-year grant to Saint Louis University.

"This grant demonstrates the commitment of three national organizations that are based in St. Louis to help the members of our community who bear the greatest burden for cancer," said Mark Varvares, M.D., director of Saint Louis University Cancer Center and chair of otolaryngology -- head and neck surgery at Saint Louis University. "They are supporting a partnership that aims to address a significant problem. The mortality rate for many types of cancer among African Americans is higher than it is for whites."

According to statistics from the National Cancer Institute, survival rates from cancer continue to improve for all groups, but the death rate from cancer remains 25 percent higher for African Americans than for Caucasians.

For instance, African-American women are most likely to die of breast cancer even though Caucasian women are more likely to get the disease. Furthermore, African-American men, the racial or ethnic group most likely to get prostate cancer, are more than twice as likely as Caucasian men to die of the disease. African Americans also have the highest incidence and death rates from colorectal and lung cancers of any racial or ethnic group.

Engaging community partners

Ricardo Wray, Ph.D.

"All too often, African Americans are among those who lack access to medical care, with dire consequences to their health," said Ricardo Wray, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cancer Prevention and associate dean for graduate education and research at the SLU School of Public Health.

"Medically underserved groups often are diagnosed with cancer too late. Many times, cancer has spread, and is at a later stage when available treatments are less effective. By catching cancer sooner through early detection, when treatment is more effective, or better still, preventing it from developing, we can make progress in fighting this deadly disease."

The new center is the next step in a long-standing relationship between Saint Louis University Cancer Center and Emerson, the Express Scripts Foundation and Ascension Health, with its community partners, The Empowerment Network and the Breakfast Club. Together, these organizations have helped provide cancer education and screening in community settings across the St. Louis region. The new center will also continue to work with other local community organizations, including churches, health advocacy and cancer survivor groups, to offer free cancer screenings and educational and informational presentations.

"Those who are part of a community best understand how to reach their peers," Wray said. "So their knowledge, experience and guidance will be invaluable in developing strategies and opportunities to promote cancer prevention and screening that will resonate with community members."

The Center for Cancer Prevention will also award grants to advocacy groups to support health volunteer training and research grants to study the science of certain cancers and cancer trends in the region.

"By raising awareness about the benefits of cancer prevention and early detection, we hope to help St. Louis residents live long and healthy lives," Wray said.

Free community event

As part of its educational outreach, the Center for Cancer Prevention will host a free community advocacy forum from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 14, at SLU's Doisy Research Center, 1100 S. Grand. The inaugural Community Forum on Advocacy targets community leaders, agencies and representatives of grassroots groups and brings together speakers who will suggest practical strategies to spread the word about fighting illness.

Selinza Mitchell, a nurse and national motivational speaker, will share ideas on how community-based organizations can make a dramatic impact on public health. Members of the local chapter of the American Lung Association and Health Literacy Missouri will discuss effective advocacy strategies that include using social media. Representatives of two African-American advocacy organizations -- the Breakfast Club, a breast cancer group, and The Empowerment Network, a prostate cancer organization -- will be among those from local groups who will talk about early cancer detection and their efforts to improve health. The forum is open to the public and reservations are required by calling 314-268-7015.

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