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St. Louis University Cancer Center gets grant to fight cancer in minority communities

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 24, 2012 - Thanks to a recent grant, the Saint Louis University Cancer Center will be partnering with local organizations to address disproportionately high cancer cases and deaths in African-American, Bosnian and other minority communities.

The $1.25 million grant, provided by Emerson, the Express Scripts Foundation and Ascension Health, is expected to support programming for the next five years.

The center will focus on prostate and breast cancer. 

African-American men are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than European-Americans, and are two and a half times more likely to die from it, according to Ricardo Wray, director of the Center for Cancer Prevention at Saint Louis University.

Wray said there is no clear information as to the cause of the higher incidence rates in certain minority groups, but it appears to be a combination of genetic, environmental and individual factors.

“St. Louis has become home for people from all over the world,” Wray said. “Some of the factors related to cancer are cultural, (for instance) smoking rates.”

Early detection is critical to successful treatment, and the most effective way to be screened is in a clinical setting, according to Wray. SLU's expanded effort will be focused on encouraging and educating people within the targeted communities to receive treatment before their cancer spreads.

“If you find cancer when it's local and you treat it, then the five-year survival rate is 100 percent,” Wray said. “In contrast, if the cancer is diagnosed after it's spread outside the gland, then the five-year survival rate is only 31 percent.”

To help meet the new goals the center has set, a major part of the expansion will involve collaborating with existing groups in the communities. Organizations such as the Breakfast Club, a St. Louis-based breast cancer support group, will help the center with community outreach, education on cancer detection and prevention, as well as assisting patients undergoing cancer treatment. The center also has plans to work with the Empowerment Network, a prostate cancer support group.

Dell Yates, Outreach Program Coordinator at the SLU Cancer Center, said they hope to bring in even more organizations from the community. Community organizations can help when language and cultural differences present problems.

A positive experience with the medical staff and others working with the patient makes it more likely that the patient will return for periodic checkups and take follow up medications.

“The fact that we can continue to do the work that we already started, and get the opportunity to reach more people in the community, that excites me,” Yates said.