Alec Stone
Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) mission is to enhance health and reduce illness throughout the country. Cancer, as the second leading cause of death in the United States, tops the list of diseases on which NIH is focused. Understanding the impact of health disparities, NIH has effectively widened its reach to touch more underserved communities with new prevention efforts.

The NIH program is designed to promote better cancer care and awareness through several outreach programs to targeted audiences in rural and minority communities. Understanding that cancer types and rates vary depending on demographics, the NIH program has brought screenings, multi-language translations, and clinical trials awareness efforts to many different populations.

According to Olveen Carrasquillo, MD, MPH, an expert in minority health at the University of Miami in Florida, many factors determine a person’s future risk for cancer. “These can be based on ethnicity, gender, geography, or other things that put certain groups at a disadvantage,” Carrasquillo said.

Researchers have designed home screening options for human papillomavirus, along with colonoscopy tests. With hopes that the options will be more accessible and less expensive, the researchers believe that prevention outreach may lead to earlier cancer identification for those at highest risk.

Additionally, navigators are working in communities to break down barriers to a health system that is intimidating to those who don’t speak the language. Grace Ma, PhD, researcher at Temple University, through an NIH grant, has used virtual navigators through videos and text messages to communicate with patients successfully, connecting them with the resources they need—no matter the language they speak.

Expanding clinical trials to include diverse populations is also a cornerstone to NIH’s efforts.

“Without diversity, studies can’t really speak to the benefit that those therapies would have in the populations that aren’t represented,” Chanita Hughes-Halbert, PhD, professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said.

NIH is actively supporting new research into healthcare disparities through grants and other resources, as well as partnering with other agencies—like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—to further the level of care for patients with cancer in all communities.