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WSU cancer disparities study receives $1 million in grants

Focus group of rural Washington patients with cancer.

Washington State University’s Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH) and Northwest Health Education Research Outcomes Network (NW HERON) will team with WSU medical students to examine disparities in cancer screening, early detection, treatment, and prevention in rural, tribal, and Hispanic populations in the state of Washington. 

Through its collaboration with rural communities, IREACH is studying the ways in which the places where individuals spend their time shape health and mortality disparities. The study is funded by a two-year $500,000 grant from the Andy Hill Care Fund Population Grant Program, which was matched by the Kuni Foundation. 

IREACH and NW HERON will collaborate with the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and WSU’s community-centered health home initiative on the study. Researchers will examine quantitative data from multiple sources and qualitative research on the topic. They will generate maps of hot spots and cold spots in rural Washington that reflect areas with disproportionately poor (hot spots) and positive (cold spots) cancer outcomes as determined by premature mortality, stage at diagnosis, and survival time.

Medical students will then interview patients and providers at 10 primary care practices in the NW HERON practice-based research network that are located inside the hot and cold spots. Findings from these interviews will help identify barriers to and facilitators of positive cancer outcomes. The medical students will also help disseminate research findings to the communities in which the participating practices are located. 

Dr. Dedra Buchwald

Dedra Buchwald, MD, founding director of IREACH, and Patrik Johansson, MD, MPH, associate professor at WSU’s College of Medicine, and director of NW HERON, will co-lead the study. Jeff Haney, MD, chair of the Department of Medical Education and Clinical Sciences at the College of Medicine, will serve as the community-centered health home leader for the project. 

“The Andy Hill Care Fund Population Health program award will advance IREACH’s efforts to address cancer disparities among rural populations,” said Dr. Buchwald. “The generous match from the Kuni Foundation expands upon our current partnership, in which we are seeking to increase access to cancer treatment for American Indian and Alaska Native people in Washington.” 

Dr. Patrik Johansson

“NW HERON’s work is aligned with WSU’s land grant mission, which is rooted in public service particularly to rural and underserved communities,” said Dr. Johansson. “This grant allows us to engage primary care practices in addressing cancer health disparities in rural Washington while providing a foundation for place-based medical student learning. We expect our research will inform public health practices that seek to increase cancer screening. We also anticipate our medical student ambassadors will be highly effective at communicating findings to rural communities.”

Dr. Haney added, “There is substantial evidence to support primary care and community activities to reduce the burden of cancer for individuals and populations. Unfortunately, we have yet to achieve those standards, and our rural communities bear the heaviest burden. This grant offers to the opportunity to gather knowledge and act to reverse that burden.”

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