Temple researchers receive new grant to address racial disparities in lung cancer care

The path to cancer care is rarely straight-forward. But for Black men and women in particular, it is cluttered with obstacles, some of which are systemic - arising from policies, procedures, or practices that contribute to inequalities in care or that completely block access to critical services.

Blacks and African Americans constitute some 42 percent of the population of Philadelphia, and a large proportion of this population experiences inequalities in health care.

Now, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) have the opportunity to address this issue, thanks to new support from the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Pfizer Global Medical Grants.

The two-year, $400,000 award supports work aimed at breaking down race-related barriers that contribute specifically to disparities in lung cancer screening and cancer care among Blacks and African Americans in the Philadelphia area. Only 10 cancer-focused programs across the country were awarded ACS/Pfizer grants, out of more than 120 applicants. The grant is funded by Pfizer Global Medical Grants and overseen by the ACS.

"We have learned to overcome systemic barriers of lung cancer screening and cancer care in our predominantly Black and African American population," said Cherie Erkmen, MD, Professor of Thoracic Surgery in the Department of Thoracic Medicine and Surgery at LKSOM, Director of Lung Cancer Screening at Temple University Hospital, and principal investigator on the grant, which is anchored within the Center for Asian Health at LKSOM. "With funding from the ACS/Pfizer grant, we can now grow Temple's successful lung cancer screening program. This is a critical time to address lung cancer, as it is the number one cause of cancer mortality."

Health disparities likely play a role in the increased risk of lung cancer and mortality among Black and African Americans compared to other populations. Unfortunately, only about 3-6 percent of Black and African Americans who are eligible for screening are actually being screened, even though screening can reduce the risk of lung cancer death by 20-26 percent. Many people, especially in underserved communities, do not take advantage of this life-saving process due to a lack of resources to navigate the multiple steps of lung cancer screening."

Dr. Cherie Erkmen, Professor of Thoracic Surgery, Department of Thoracic Medicine and Surgery, LKSOM

In previous work, Dr. Erkmen and colleagues successfully mitigated systemic barriers to lung cancer screening by developing a model known as multi-specialty, integrated lung cancer screening (mi-LCS). "Our unique screening model allows patients to participate in shared decision-making regarding the choice to screen and to receive education, smoking cessation counseling, low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) of the chest, LDCT results, and follow-up care in a single visit. Much of this visit can now be delivered through telemedicine, making screening possible in the COVID-19 era."

The success of Temple's single-visit mi-LCS program, which is directed by Dr. Erkmen, lies in the multispecialty contribution of Temple clinicians and researchers and the overwhelming, multi-institutional support the program has received across the university. Now, these same Temple institutions and collaborating researchers are contributing to the new grant, which will help more people in underserved communities receive the screening opportunities they need. The researchers plan to reach these communities through increased efforts to promote mi-LCS across social media and web-based education platforms. The importance of these avenues has become especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Thanks to ACS/Pfizer, Temple has received national recognition for our successful model of lung cancer screening and care. We now have an amazing opportunity to become a model institution, leading the way in the elimination of racial disparities in cancer care," Dr. Erkmen said.

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