Disparities in access to health care and education hinder minorities and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations from receiving needed cancer services and often lead to delayed cancer diagnoses.
To determine the lasting impact of cancer education geared toward African-Americans, researchers with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), in partnership with The Centers for Healthy Hearts and Souls, a Pittsburgh-based community health promotion organization, designed an outreach program that consisted of three education sessions. Study participants showed high levels of interest in cancer-related issues and notable retention and improvement in their knowledge about cancer after four months, according to findings presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) in Los Angeles.
“A number of barriers, both real and perceived, deter minorities from receiving much needed cancer services,” said Dwight Heron, M.D., study co-author and assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Improved knowledge about cancer prevention and treatment can help us better reach patients and communities with the greatest needs, and address and overcome cultural and socioeconomic factors that often limit access to cancer services. This study points to the crucial influence an education program can have on cancer knowledge and attitudes, and is an important first step in breaking down barriers related to cancer disparities,” said Dr. Heron.
Study participants included 38 African-Americans of varying ages, including a group of 10 residents of a Pittsburgh-based senior citizens center. Study investigators presented three education sessions: a culturally-adapted version of Cancer 101, a program on clinical trials developed by the National Cancer Institute and a scenario-based discussion of cancer-related subjects using the Cancer Knowledge Assessment Tool (CKAT). The CKAT was given prior to the cancer sessions and again four months later.
Pre-test results indicated that both the younger and older participants understood the importance of early detection and treatment for cancer, yet both groups appeared to have difficulty with the concept of cancer cell growth and hereditary risk factors. Both younger and older participants understood the purpose of clinical trials and their potential benefit, but few understood the meaning of a phase 3 clinical trial, and younger participants had less knowledge of the clinical trials process. Both groups coped well with difficult situations related to cancer on the CKAT. While younger participants scored better on scenarios related to radiation therapy concerns, health insurance and worries about biopsies, older participants scored better on a scenario related to the contribution of smoking to cancer.
Post-test results four months later indicated improvement in 36 percent of answers on the CKAT. Overall, younger participants showed greater improvement in knowledge than the older participants.