El Mensajero (English)

Posted: January 13, 2016

Researchers need more Latinos for trials

By Annette Jiménez/EMC

ROCHESTER -- University of Rochester researchers want more Hispanics to be involved in cancer studies.

As part of that aim, Charles Kamen, who conducts research on cancer controls at Wilmot Cancer Center and the UR's department of surgery, has joined national efforts to help Latinos overcome barriers to participating in research trials.

His own research focuses on the effects of chemotherapy treatment and determines what specific actions or "controls" will reduce negative impacts from it.

"For example, in the past we have looked at how many cancer patients using a particular kind of chemotherapy experience nausea. We then designed treatments to reduce nausea," he explained. "Right now, we are working to identify cognitive issues associated with cancer treatment (and) develop exercise and yoga interventions that cancer patients, survivors and caregivers can use during and after treatment."

He also is testing such supplements as vitamin D and fish oil for improving cancer side effects, he noted.

Additionally, his work to address cancer-related health disparities between Caucasian and other racial and ethnic populations is part of the National Cancer Institute's National Community Oncology Research Program. Through that program, cities around the country have developed studies among minority populations, Kamen said, but locally more participation from ethnic groups is needed to have a more representative sample.

So he and Sandy Plumb, an associate with UR's Family Medicine Research Programs, have begun looking into ways to partner with local Latino groups and spread the word on the need for increased participation, they said. Medical trials deepen knowledge of the Latino community locally so researchers can develop strategies to improve health outcomes, Plumb noted.

"We're talking to people about what can we do better to help get more involvement in research," Kamen said. "We want to make (trials) more accessible to everybody."

In light of that, his cancer control unit at Wilmot created the Minority/Underserved Research, Action and Learning (MURAL) program to serve three purposes, Kamen and Plumb said:

* Conduct meetings with community members to gain information about the Latino population and other underserved groups.

* Learn about the community's experience with research trials.

* Provide information about the research in general, research in cancer control and research done at Wilmot.

Plumb, who has managed multiple research studies, participated in pilot testing the MURAL program and the activities that are part of it, Kamen said. Once it begins connecting with Latino groups, the research team can then develop strategies for a research coordinator to oversee the program while also serving as a bridge between the research team and the Latino community, she added.

This research is important, Kamen explained, because Hispanics in the United States experience several cancer-related disparities when compared to the non-Hispanic Anglo population. For example, Latinas are diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage than non-Hispanic white women, he added, possibly because Latinas undergo mammography at lower rates. Rates of stomach, cervix, liver and gallbladder cancers also are higher among Latino populations, and these rates may be particularly high in Latino immigrants, he said.

The reasons for those cancer-related disparities include language barriers, lack of resources and lack of access to transportation, Kamen added.

Similar obstacles also may prevent Latinos from participating in research trials, he added. For example, lack of transportation could deter Latinos from taking part in trials because they are conducted at Wilmot Cancer Center in Rochester.

In creating MURAL, Kamen said that he found a lot of information about the reasons for the obstacles but little on attempts to address them.

"We know we have a Hispanic population we never see in research," he said. "What can we do to make our research (trials) more accessible?"

Improving health literacy is one step begun by doctors a decade ago that is still relevant to improving health outcomes and research participation, noted Dr. Constantino Fernández, a clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester. The National Hispanic Medical Association also recommends the hiring of Spanish-speaking nurses, doctors and research assistants to facilitate research participation, as well as having research teams get in contact with health centers or clinics that treat Latino patients, added Fernández.

Improving communication and research participation also can help people in creating better habits that in turn reduce cancer-related disparities and improve overall health, concurred Kamen. For example, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Latino men and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Latina women; thus, providing resources on quitting smoking can greatly reduce people’s risk of cancer, he said. Also, keeping regular appointments for cancer screenings is important, including mammograms and cervical pap smears for women and prostate checkups for men. Maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active also can reduce cancer risk. 

"Eating a healthy, plant-based diet and getting at least 30 minutes of physical exercise a day can help reduce weight gain and also reduce cancer risk," Kamen said. "The dream is this (project) becomes a more systematic process. ... But the first step is assessing the community's needs."

EDITOR'S NOTE: To connect with a research team at Wilmot Cancer Center, call Sandy Plumb at 585-324-4553. For more information about Hispanics and cancer, visit http://bit.ly/1nmUuWs.

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