Preventing and controlling cancer are two key elements in eradicating it. Studies have shown that with the right approaches, a third of the most common cancers could be prevented. Prevention is also the most cost-effective and sustainable way of reducing the global cancer burden long term. Other cancers can be detected early in their development, treated and cured. Even with late-stage cancer, the pain can be reduced, the progression of the cancer slowed and patients and their families helped to cope. The Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC) research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center brings together a diverse group of health services and behavioral scientists with clinicians to study behavioral, policy, organizational and environmental factors that affect cancer risk, diagnosis, treatment and survival.
The CPC program is currently leading many community- and patient-based initiatives aimed at educating and raising awareness to prevent and control cancer. The following are a few recent examples.
Interactive audiovisual tool developed to educate communities about cancer screenings
Despite continued advances in cancer research, detection and treatment, there are still significant disparities in patient knowledge of healthy behaviors, screening guidelines and resources available. The Community Engagement Educational Program (CEEP), led by VCU Massey CPC researcher Arpita Aggarwal, M.S., M.D., recognized those disparities in the Piedmont and Mount Rogers health districts of Virginia and identified a need for community-based resources for preventive health education.
CEEP developed an educational program, in partnership with the two districts, to test a culturally and linguistically appropriate computer-based interactive audiovisual tool for recommended preventative cancer screening that will be used by community facilitators. The tool includes tutorials on cancer risk behaviors and recommended screening guidelines for cervical, breast, colorectal, prostate and skin cancers. The audio-visual component was designed to benefit participants with limited health literacy and reading or visual problems. The interactive tool is currently being tested in over 400 participants in 20 towns of the two health districts.
“In addition to increasing health awareness in our partnering communities,” said Aggarwal, “our long-term goal is to build community capacity and sustainability by developing local leaders and training community facilitators. This community-academic partnership has been designed to serve as a model for other institutions on how to build and sustain a community that can address its own health needs and concerns, especially in the underserved and disparate populations.”
Project LIFE! puts faith in churches to influence healthy behavior
In early 2013, the American Cancer Society released a report revealing that cancer death rates are significantly higher among African Americans than Caucasians. Decreasing this disparity was one of the objectives behind Project LIFE! (Lord, Intimate relationships, Fitness, and Early detection), which utilizes the power and influence of the African-American church to become a partner in addressing this major health concern.
“Our goal is to evaluate the impact on the behaviors of congregants when their church adopts a ‘health and wholeness’ pledge to practice and promote healthy behaviors,” said project lead and VCU Massey CPC researcher Maghboeba Mosavel, M.A., Ph.D.
Project LIFE! is currently active in three churches in Danville and Pittsylvania, Virginia. Eleven congregants were trained to serve as LIFE! coaches to spread health promotion messages and host tailored activities aimed at increasing healthy behaviors and promoting early detection for cancer.
LIFE! coach, Linda Kelly, from the Shockoe Missionary Baptist Church said, “As a Project LIFE! coach, I myself have changed a lot…Because of Project LIFE!, I pushed my husband to have a repeat colonoscopy and guess what they found? A precancerous polyp was found, that if left unattended could have developed into cancer. The doctor said it was the type of polyp that can become cancerous. So, thank God for my spirituality and for Project LIFE!”
“Once Project LIFE! is complete, the expected outcome is that there will be an increased knowledge of cancer screening resources; increase in screening; and more integration of healthy practices within the church,” said Mosavel.
Instructional videos teach patients about their cancer treatments
Cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy (RT), can be overwhelming and hard to understand. With that in mind, VCU Massey CPC researcher Robin K. Matsuyama, Ph.D., and Massey Radiation Biology and Oncology researcher Drew Moghanaki, M.P.H., M.D., developed a short video explaining the process of RT in simple terms in hopes of making the patients more knowledgeable and, in turn, more comfortable.
The researchers conducted a pilot study with cancer patients who had not yet received an initial RT consultation. Patient knowledge of cancer and treatment were assessed before and after viewing the video using surveys like the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine, a screening instrument used to assess an adult patient’s ability to read common medical words.
The researchers found that awareness of RT was very poor before viewing the video, regardless of sociodemographic factors (such as age, gender, ethnicity, income and education), with more than 78 percent of patients having little to no basic knowledge of RT.
After viewing the film “Guide to Radiation Therapy,” which combines educational material with patient narratives, knowledge of RT significantly improved.
“While patients may ultimately learn about RT during their course of treatment, we advocate for tools that can improve patient knowledge at the time of initial consultation, as this is typically the time they are asked to provide informed consent for treatment,” explained Matsuyama.
Matsuyama and her team are continuing to develop a series of cancer patient education films, including instructional videos about stem cell transplants and breast reconstruction.