Cancer does not affect everyone in the same way. A combination of factors, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status can make some patients face a greater cancer burden and poorer outcomes in cancer care and treatment. These inequities are called cancer disparities.
The causes “are complex and reflect social and economic disparities and cultural differences that affect cancer risk, as well as differences in access to high-quality health care,” according to the American Cancer Society. Dana-Farber is committed to addressing these inequities and reducing barriers to access for medically underserved patients and their loved ones.
“We bring our cancer research, screening, and treatment to communities that might not have access to it,” says Magnolia Contreras, director of Community Benefits at Dana-Farber.
Here are several resources that community residents should know about.
Resources in Roxbury, Massachusetts
The Cancer Care Equity Program (CCEP) collaborates with Whittier Street Health Center, a community health care center in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Led by Christopher Lathan, MD, MS, the program provides streamlined access to cancer care, diagnosis, and treatment to medically underserved patients who may have a cancer concern.
“The program started with an effort to address the disproportionate burden of cancer in communities of color in our own backyard,” explains Ludmilla Svoboda, RN, BSN, a program nurse with the CCPE.
Resources you can take advantage of through CCEP include:
- Lung cancer screening and smoking cessation counseling: Connect with an oncologist, receive a referral to a smoking cessation counselor, and receive a low-dose CT scan at no-cost.
- Genetic cancer risk evaluation: Patients with a family history of cancer can be seen by a Dana-Farber geneticist and genetic counselor for a cancer risk evaluation and, if necessary, genetic testing. These experts will also discuss information about family history and cancer with you.
- Past or current cancer diagnosis: Patients with a new cancer diagnosis, or who were diagnosed with cancer in their country of origin, can be seen by a Dana-Farber specialist. The specialist will obtain health care records and coordinate every aspect of follow-up care.
Other Boston-based prevention and care assistance
The Dana-Farber Community Outreach program collaborates with city and state health departments, community partners, and Boston-based coalitions to assess the needs of, and deliver programs to, serve local residents.
Here are some resources that are online or could be in your neighborhood:
- Mammography Suite at Whittier Street Health Center: Open year-round, the suite provides screening mammograms to women 40 years of age and older. For more information, call 617-989-3200.
- Dana-Farber’s Sun Safety/Skin Cancer Prevention Program: This program aims to reduce the incidence of skin cancer in Massachusetts through education and skin cancer screenings at no cost. Visit the website for more information.
- HPV and Related Cancers Outreach Program: This initiative aims to reduce the HPV-related cancer burdens through education and access to vaccination by providing medically accurate information as well as health resources. Visit the website for more information.
- Tobacco Control and Lung Cancer Prevention: Designed to reduce smoking and tobacco-related cancers, this resource provides several clinical programs to patients at local community health centers and community members. They include smoking cessation counseling, lung cancer screening, and lung cancer treatment. Visit the website for more information.
- Mammography Van: The only mobile digital mammography in Massachusetts that provides screening and breast health awareness to women age 40 or older. Priority populations include immigrants as well as women who are low-income, older, or non-English speaking. For more information, call 617-632-1974 or email email@example.com.
Cancer awareness initiatives
Dana-Farber’s Initiatives to Eliminate Cancer Disparities (IECD) advances community outreach, promotes disparities research, and raises awareness of — and sensitivity to — the impact of culture on cancer, medical decision-making, and care.
Examples of initiatives include:
- Faith-based initiatives: Established as a way for health ministries to assist in the fight against cancer, including the use of expert speakers and awareness materials. View the website to learn more.
- Clinical trial awareness: An ongoing effort to raise awareness and improve overall knowledge and perspective towards cancer research and clinical trials in marginalized communities. Historically, clinical trials have seen low participation in marginalized populations due to community mistrust and misinformation, including who is eligible and what the trials pertain.
- Cancer Survivorship: Faces of Faith: A photographic exhibit of cancer survivors focused on sharing stories of survivorship to encourage the demystification of cancer and supporting those who are living witnesses that one can maintain a vibrant life as a cancer survivor. The exhibit, which has been featured in several faith and community-based organizations throughout the Boston area, can be viewed here.
- The Choice is Yours: A series of cancer prevention poster displays used to broaden awareness in communities of color about prevention strategies. The posters come in multiple languages, including Spanish and Haitian-Creole.
“We must be prepared and willing to engage in deliberate dialogue with our communities of color,” says Karen Burns White, deputy associate director of the IECD. “We want to serve as a conduit and listen to community needs, while also bringing forth awareness, information, and knowledge.”
Contact IECD@partners.org to learn more about how to get involved with these initiatives.
Resources for income-eligible patients and all patients
Cancer can often introduce new financial hardships or worsen existing ones. Dana-Farber has a team of dedicated resource specialists that help connect income-eligible patients with available resources, both at the Institute and in the community. These include reduced-rate accommodations, transportation options, food assistance, and other basic needs. To speak with a resource specialist at Dana-Farber, call 617-632-3301.
Dana-Farber also offers patient financial assistance to eligible patients who do not have the ability to pay for their healthcare. Call 617-632-3455 to speak with a financial counselor.
Dana-Farber has additional internal resources for patients and their families as well. To learn more, be sure to connect with one of the centers below:
- The Eleanor and Maxwell Blum Patient and Family Resource Center: Offers patients and their family members ways to learn more about their disease, treatment, and management. Due to COVID-19, the Blum Resource Center is currently closed, but patients and family members can still participate in virtual programs and workshops. The Blum Resource Center also offers a digital resource center which serves as an online extension of the resource information available at the Blum, including linked translated materials in various languages such as Spanish, Arabic, and Portuguese. For more information visit the website, email the Blum Resource Center, or call 617-632-5570.
- The Betty Ann Blum and Marjorie Blum Pediatric Resource Room: Located in the Jimmy Fund Clinic, this resource center is home to many support and educational programs for pediatric patients and their families. Caregivers can take advantage of free resources while patients can play, create art, or experience music therapy during their clinic appointment. Staff are also present to support families during and after treatment. For more information, call 617-632-3900.
Addressing cancer disparities and increasing access
The Center for Cancer Equity and Engagement (CCEE) a subset of the IECD, partners with organizations across Massachusetts to address cancer disparities and increase cancer care. By connecting Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center faculty with local communities, the CCEE works to bridge the gap of access between researchers/providers and community members.
- PRECISE: A community outreach project led by Timothy Rebbeck, PhD, which aims to improve prostate cancer screening disparities for African American men. African American men should be screened for prostate cancer starting at age 40. More information can be found here.
- Viswanath Lab: Run by Vish Viswanath, PhD, this program focuses on ensuring everyone benefits from the latest research advancements. Community leaders, patients, and students who want to learn more, including how to get involved, should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website for Viswanath’s Lab.
Learn how to get involved in these programs, whether you’re a community member or a researcher.
Continuing research on cancer disparities
Dana-Farber researchers conduct a wide range of studies into the causes of cancer disparities and approaches to alleviating them. Investigators have worked in the lab, clinic, and the community to improve access to quality cancer care, heighten awareness of cancer risk and prevention, and improve treatment outcomes for Black, Latinx, and other people of color or underserved groups. Learn more about these research projects happening at Dana-Farber.
“Progress against cancer is meaningful only to the extent that it is shared equally — that no community is left behind,” says Dana-Farber President and CEO Laurie H. Glimcher, MD. “There is much to be done to reduce and ultimately eliminate cancer disparities in our society. But we are committed as an institution and as individuals to taking up the challenge of breaking down barriers and creating better access to lifesaving cancer care for all patients.”