WASHINGTON – Blacks in Baltimore and poor residents on the Eastern Shore will be targeted under a cancer research and education program unveiled Thursday by the National Cancer Institute.
The Maryland Special Populations Cancer Network is one of 18 that will be funded nationwide by the cancer institute. The Maryland program expects to get $1.8 million over five years to fund a partnership between 10 community and health organizations, headed by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“What we plan to do is address the huge cancer rate and disparities in cancer rates throughout the state of Maryland,” said Claudia Baquet, the principal investigator for the Maryland Special Populations Cancer Network.
Maryland had a cancer mortality rate of 179.61 deaths per 100,000 people in 1996, according to the Maryland Cancer Registry. But the rate for blacks was 223.60, compared to a rate of 171.81 for whites in the state.
The disparity was even larger in the Baltimore region, where the black cancer mortality rate was 256.01 per 100,000 residents compared to 120.40 for the white population, according to the registry.
The racial disparity was reversed on the Eastern Shore, where the white cancer mortality rate was 179.91 per 100,000 residents and the rate for blacks was 160.28.
The Maryland network unveiled Thursday said it will try to serve the whole state, but will pay particular attention to Baltimore and the Eastern Shore.
The network will spend a year researching problems in specific areas of the state: Baquet wants to know why so many Baltimore City women are dying from breast cancer, for example, when the city’s mammography rate is also very high.
After that, the network will teach doctors and the public about possible ways to solve these problems, said Baquet, who is also associate dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
She said the network will also work to attract minority medical professionals into cancer research.
The 17 other initiatives will follow a path similar to Maryland’s. Funded with $60 million from the cancer institute, the initiatives are aimed at “cancer control, prevention, research and training programs” for minority populations nationwide.
“This money will start a new initiative in cancer research to end disparities across the country,” said National Cancer Institute Director Richard Klausner.
Black men had the highest mortality rates for all cancers in the country between 1990 and 1996, and black women had the second-highest rate for the same period, according to the cancer institute. It also said that more poor people died from cancer in that period than the rest of society.
A cure for cancer must include community and behavior research as well as molecular biology research, said Elmer Huerta, who spoke at Thursday’s news conference. Huerta, the director of Washington Hospital Center’s Cancer Risk Assessment and Screening Center, is also principal investigator for the Latin American Cancer Research Coalition, another program in the NIC cancer network.
“It is a real community-based research initiative,” said Huerta. “This will allow the community to engage in healthy behavior.”
Officials said that the community-based approach will let health officials “educate the American public in a language that they can understand.”
Baquet was ecstatic about the grant, which will help fund a partnership with community newspapers and ministers, among others.
“I’ve actually been working on the area of disparities in cancer rates since the mid-80s and it’s been very hard to find a consistent source of funding to support the needed level of outreach and research,” she said. “This is exactly what is needed.”