Cancer Center Opens Community-based Office to Study Health Disparities

Posted in GUMC Stories

Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center has marked the opening of a new community-based office designed to research and reduce cancer disparities among minority and underserved communities in the nation’s capital.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials joined Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, Medical Center representatives and members of the community for the October 11 official ribbon-cutting for the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research, which opened in May.

The office is located at 1000 New Jersey Avenue, SE, just a few steps from the Navy Yard Metro stop, to facilitate easy access by community members.

“As I look around at this assemblage of dignitaries, scientists, advocates and members of the community, I am reminded of what inspired us to open this office in the first place: a vision of a city where everyone can have access to quality health care and information – regardless of their race, education level, socioeconomic status, or address,” said Louis M. Weiner, M.D., director of Georgetown Lombardi, part of Georgetown University Medical Center.

Addressing Inequities in the Community

Internationally renowned cancer epidemiologist Lucile Adams-Campbell, Ph.D., associate director for minority health and health disparities research at Georgetown Lombardi, is leading the effort.

“We hear so much about health disparities, and people often think that it’s only [about] blacks and whites,” Adams-Campbell said during the ceremony. “Health disparities are defined as any inequity in treatment of services that includes race, gender, physical and mental disabilities, occupation, location, geography, age and education.”

Washington has one of the highest cancer mortality rates in the nation, ranking highest for prostate cancer, second highest for breast cancer, third highest for cervical cancer and seventh highest in the nation for all cancers combined, according to the DC Cancer Consortium.

The city’s African-American population is disproportionately affected by cancer. Blacks in D.C. are 9 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast, cervical, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined than their white neighbors, and 49 percent of these African Americans are likely to die from these diseases, according to the DC Cancer Consortium.

There are a myriad of reasons for the disproportionate impact, Adams-Campbell said, including a susceptibility to more aggressive forms of cancer, environmental factors and barriers to health education, insurance and treatment.

“I’m tired of hearing that D.C. is listed as one of the top-ranked cities for having high [cancer] mortality rates. But we can’t stop saying it until we do something about it. This is a major effort to do something about it,” Adams-Campbell said.

In addition to disproportionately high cancer mortality rates, Washington has higher-than-average disparity rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease – all of which may be affected by diet and exercise.

Overall, more than 22 percent of adults 18 and older are obese in the District, 28 percent have hypertension and 8 percent have Type 2 diabetes, according to the D.C. Department of Health.

Expediting Research

Much of Adams-Campbell’s own research focuses on community-based interventions to improve diet and exercise among underserved populations.

The new office features an exercise physiology lab, rooms to research the impact of exercise through video games, and equipment for measuring body fat composition and bone density.

The office also includes Georgetown Lombardi faculty members with expertise in cancer epidemiology, health communications, exercise physiology and nutrition, as well as a nurse practitioner, community health educators and an administrative staff.

It is also only about a mile from Capital Breast Care Center (CBCC), a Georgetown Lombardi breast-screening and education program located at 650 Avenue S.E. that is another important component of its health disparities research program.

“The importance of local communities cannot be overstated … we cannot do it alone,” said Adams-Campbell. “If we can just improve the lifestyles of the community that we serve, we can make a difference.”

Part of a Larger Effort

The Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research, provides a community “anchor” for the cancer-related research already under way as part of a $6.1 million grant awarded earlier this year to GUMC by the National Institutes of Health.

The grant establishes a broader center, called the Center for Health Disparities in Our Nation’s Capital, in partnership with Howard University and MedStar Health Research Institute.

“One of the first goals of this Center of Excellence is to build new – and strengthen existing – relationships between the scientific and lay communities so that we can advance evidence-based ways of impacting health disparities,” said Howard J. Federoff, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center.

“Since joining our community in 2008, Lucile’s leadership has helped to bring health disparities to the forefront of our University’s priorities, and we look forward to the research, the collaborations, and the difference this new office will have in our university-wide effort to reduce health disparities in the District of Columbia,” said President DeGioia.

The opening ceremony for the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research was recorded and is available for viewing at:

Lauren Wolkoff, Georgetown Lombardi Communications

(Published Oct. 19, 2012)