Virginia residents asked to partner in research to reduce cancer disparities
VCU Massey Cancer Center is asking local citizens to partner in cancer research designed to identify and address health needs in their own communities. The project called Together for Health – Virginia is a comprehensive health assessment program designed to better understand how social and behavioral patterns as well as financial and environmental factors impact cancer rates. Information from this research will help to improve health care practices and services within communities.
“This is an opportunity for residents to partner with their local National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center on a research program aimed at improving health in the communities that need it most,” says Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director for cancer prevention and control and Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., Chair in Cancer Research at Massey as well as a professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Medicine. “The effort really gets to the heart of Massey’s mission by conducting research that makes an impact at the local level.”
VCU Massey Cancer Center is hoping to enroll 2,000 or more Virginians ages 18 years and older in the program. An initial survey was mailed to a random selection of households in Virginia. Next, researchers will be reaching out to residents in Virginia by disseminating targeted messages via social media platforms. The program can be accessed through a mobile app available at the Apple App Story or Google Play (by searching Together for Health – Virginia) or online at Together for Health – Virginia. Participation in the survey is completely voluntary.
After completing the survey, participants will have the option to continue engaging with researchers over the course of a year by answering follow-up questionnaires and providing researchers with access to behavioral and social data. By downloading the mobile app, participants have the option of sharing the data from their fitness tracker. Only VCU researchers conducting the study will have access to the data, which will be stored in a secured registry.
Data collected through Together for Health – Virginia research program will be used to guide Massey in targeting community outreach and education efforts addressing health behaviors such as tobacco cessation, obesity/weight management, HPV vaccination, cancer screening and early detection. It will also serve to identify causes of cancer disparities across the state, by examining the impacts of financial barriers, health literacy, access to health care services and medical mistrust. Results will be shared with state and local agencies to guide programs aimed at improving health.
“We need the help of community members and citizen collaborators to tell us about their behaviors and how they engage with health information so we can learn and discover better ways to promote health and well-being in their communities,” says Fuemmeler, who is also collaborating with Massey Cancer Prevention and Control research members David Wheeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the VCU Department of Biostatistics, and Sunny Jung Kim, Ph.D., M.S., M.A., assistant professor in the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. “The programs that we implement will only be effective if we have a deep grasp of all the factors that impact cancer risk, so it’s important that participants in the program represent all of the diverse populations living in Virginia.”
Massey is one of the only safety-net cancer centers in Virginia, meaning that it treats all patients regardless of their health insurance coverage or ability to pay for treatment. As such, Massey plays an important role as a cancer care provider for high-risk and underserved populations, uninsured and Medicaid patients.
Together for Health – Virginia is funded by a one-year supplement to Massey’s National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant of more than $225,000.