Temple Times Online Edition
    MAY 19, 2005
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Center for Asian Health awarded $5M to reduce cancer health disparities in Asian Americans

The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health has awarded Temple’s Center for Asian Health $5 million to reduce cancer health disparities in the Korean, Chinese, Cambodian and Vietnamese communities in the region encompassing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York.  The award, part of an initiative to reduce cancer health disparities in minority and poor populations, is one of 25 granted nationwide.

Through community participation in education, research and training, grantees will develop programs to increase early detection, prevention and treatment of cancer in underserved communities. Grace Ma, director and principal investigator of the Center for Asian Health, has already built a strong foundation for the newly funded Asian Tobacco Education and Cancer Awareness Research Asian Community Cancer Network.

In 2000, Ma was one of 18 principal investigators chosen to take part in the NCI’s Special Populations Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training. These networks were charged with developing community-based infrastructures that would provide “culturally competent” cancer awareness activities for underserved populations, as well as with training minority researchers to conduct community-based research in this area.

According to the National Cancer Institute, Asian Americans experience the highest incidence rates of liver and stomach cancers and also suffer from high rates of lung, cervical, breast and colorectal cancers.

“One of the baffling mysteries of cancer is why this disease impacts minority and underserved populations so differently and why there are incidence and mortality disparities along race, income, geographic and other demographic lines,” said Harold Freeman, director of the NCI’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities.

To date, Ma and her research team have recruited and trained 80 Asian-American junior researchers and engaged more than 6,500 community members in tobacco prevention, cessation and cancer control research; reached more than 100,000 Asian-Americans through various cancer awareness and education activities; and completed 22 tobacco and cancer research studies.

“Many of the people we are trying to help are recent immigrants.  Most have no health insurance and will not go to a doctor unless there is an immediate problem,” Ma said.

“Our goal as researchers, health educators and providers is to direct regional and national attention to the needs of the underserved and uninsured, and to explore culturally appropriate and effective ways to serve these populations,” she continued.

Ma, associate professor of public health at the College of Health Professions, has dedicated her career to improving health care for underserved minority populations. Over the past 20 years, she has focused on community-based participatory research in healthcare access, cancer prevention and early detection, health disparities, smoking cessation and other substance abuse interventions among minority populations.  Her contributions have influenced public health education, research and practices in the United States and China.

Over the next five years, Ma and her research team will expand the center’s community-based participatory research, education and training programs that contribute to reducing cancer health disparities in Asian-American communities. The team will focus on smoking cessation and lung cancer prevention; interventions and early detection of cervical and breast cancer, hepatitis B-liver cancer, colorectal and stomach cancer; and chronic diseases and healthcare access in Asian communities. It will also expand its pilot research program through direct involvement of junior Asian researchers and community partners. 

“One of the most challenging goals of the new grant will be establishing the credibility and sustainability of our efforts in narrowing cancer health disparities in the Asian-American communities.  We hope we can meet and exceed our past accomplishments; we are a committed team,” Ma said.

– By Tory Harris