UCSF receives grant to study cancer in latino population

June 15, 2000

In an effort to decrease cancer incidence in U.S. Latino populations, the National Cancer Institute has awarded a grant to a UC San Francisco researcher to raise awareness about cancer issues in Latinos, promote more research on the subject and train more Latino investigators.

Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD, UCSF professor of medicine and chief of the division of general internal medicine, is director of the Northwest Regional Network Center of the newly formed Redes En Acción (Networks in Action). This group is a national coalition of cancer research centers and community based organizations whose goal is to curb the spread of cancer in Latinos through research, training and public awareness.

The Northwest regional network spans California, Nevada and Washington states and is one of six Redes En Acción sites in the United States to receive NCI funding to fight cancer in Latinos. Redes En Acción is directed nationally by Amelie Ramirez, DrPH., at Baylor University in Houston, Texas. "I expect Redes to establish a Latino agenda on cancer that includes prevention and treatment research," Pérez-Stable said.

One of the goals of the five-year program is to increase Latino participation in clinical trials because there is not as much data about Latinos and cancer as there is on whites and African-Americans, Pérez-Stable said.

"It's hard to get people into clinical trials and part of the reason is mistrust," he said. "And patients aren't approached in a proper way." Another goal is to use the NCI money to fund young Latino investigators in cancer research.

"We must address workforce concerns if we are to deliver culturally competent clinical care," Perez-Stable said. "We need more Latinos in the health professions at all levels, but especially in leadership roles," he said noting that while Latinos make up about 30 percent of California's population, they only comprise about four percent of all physicians in the state.

According to the NCI, Latinos die disproportionately of colon and breast cancer compared to groups having higher rates of those types of cancer. Latinas have a high rate of cervical cancer, a relatively uncommon cancer that strikes about 13,000 women a year in the U.S., Pérez-Stable said. This cancer can be cured in 90 percent of all cases if found early, but Latinas have one of the highest cervical cancer death rates, ranking second only to Vietnamese women. Also, the incidence of stomach, liver and gallbladder cancers is higher in Latino men compared to white men, he said.

In addition, Latinos are more often diagnosed with cancer at a later, less treatable stage. One reason for this is lack of health insurance.

"There is an access problem because Latinos are the most uninsured group in the country," Pérez-Stable said. "In California, 40 percent of Latinos between the ages of 18 and 64 are without health insurance. Most of this relates to their employment which often does not include benefits or the benefits are minimal."

First year plans for the grant include Redes En Acción establishing a committee with representatives from scientific, clinical, community-based and government organizations that will advise and work with the different sites in recommending topics to be addressed and future direction. They also will send out two surveys to opinion leaders such as cancer specialists, hospital administrators, researchers and to the National Hispanic Medical Association to help set priorities for cancer research and select topics for professional and public education.
The UCSF effort to study cancer among Latinos is part of the NCI Special Populations Networks, a $60 million program announced recently that will address the unequal burden of cancer in certain populations in the United States over the next five years. Other groups to be studied include African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Hispanics and those from the Appalachia region.

UCSF will receive $750,000 for the next five years. Other Redes En Accion sites are: Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn, NY; Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami, Florida; Latino Health Research Center, University of Illinois at Chicago; Medical Hispanic Center of Excellence, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

University of California - San Francisco

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