In an effort to someday reduce breast cancer incidence and death among African-American females in the Inland Empire, the LLU School of Public Health presented a program this past February to educate these women about participation in human clinical trials that seek to lessen cancer mortality.
“Clinical trials are crucial for the development of effective prevention, diagnoses, and treatment for cancer,” says Padma Tadi-Uppala, PhD, an SPH associate professor of environmental and occupational health, as well as principal investigator for the grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, Inland Empire Affiliate (www.komenie.org) that made this educational outreach possible.
About 60 women attended the event, most of whom were African American. They represented breast cancer patients, breast cancer survivors, women at high risk for breast cancer, patient advocates from six area breast cancer support groups, and others.
Breast cancer is more likely to kill an African-American woman than a woman of any other race, due to later detection of the disease in this population, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
During the program, Dr. Tadi-Uppala presented a version of the National Cancer Institute’s clinical trial education program tailored specifically to the needs of African-American women. Prior to the event, Dr. Tadi-Uppala and others in the School of Public Health conducted several community focus groups in order to ensure a culturally appropriate presentation.
Women in the audience also posed questions about treatment options and clinical trials to an expert panel made up of surgical oncologists Sharon Lum, MD, and Jan Wong, MD; plastic and reconstructive surgeon Michael Hill, MD; and researchers Susanne Montgomery, PhD; Naomi Modeste, DrPH; Larry Beeson, DrPH; John Morgan, DrPH; and Seth Wiafe, MPH—all from Loma Linda University and LLU Medical Center. Kimlin Ashing-Giwa, PhD, from City of Hope cancer center in Duarte, California, also served on the panel.
The program covered the importance and logistics of clinical trials, including why they matter to women in the Inland Empire, the benefits and barriers of participating, and protection of patient rights.
Only 3 to 5 percent of the more than 10 million American adults diagnosed with cancer participate in clinical trials. African Americans and other minorities are the least likely to take part in trials, according to Dr. Tadi-Uppala.
Dawn Hopson-Powell of Redlands, who has been free of breast cancer for one year, attended the program and says she learned interesting information about clinical trials. She also enjoyed the camaraderie of being with other African-American women who have been touched by breast cancer in some way, noting that it was a “very positive environment.”
The day began with free health screenings for the women, ranging from measurements of lean mass and body fat to checking for a narrowing of the blood vessels that can lead to stroke.
School of Public Health students Arvind Mathur, David Adesanya, Ashwini Erande, and Anurag Arora worked long hours to plan and prepare for the program. Medical students who worked on various projects with Dr. Uppala include Alicia Fillmore, William Blackledge, and Elisha Bob.
Dr. Tadi-Uppala has done breast cancer research for years. The United States Department of Defense funded her first study beginning in 1997, which examined the link between breast cancer risk and DDT exposure in black women living in Triana, Alabama. She used rat models to mimic the epidemiological study and published her results in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis.
Dr. Tadi-Uppala later came to LLU and has since completed two more scientific breast cancer studies. Additionally, she is currently heading two more projects. One examines the relationship between soy and breast cancer protection.
Like this past winter’s event, the second one focuses on clinical trials and black women in the Inland Empire. The study staff will work with both subjects who have cancer and subjects who do not, connecting them to the most appropriate clinical trials, with the goal of preventing and controlling breast cancer. Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Inland Empire Affiliate, is funding this project.
Dr. Tadi-Uppala finds her motivation for educating women and connecting them to the right physicians in two things: unawareness about breast cancer and a feeling of helplessness in fighting the disease among women of lower socioeconomic status, many of whom lack health insurance.
“My passion is to teach them the power of prayer and wholeness in bringing about healing not only to the body, but mind and spirit,” she says.
Additionally, two breast cancer research partners have been surgical oncologist Carlos Garberoglio, MD, from City of Hope, and mass spectrometrist Kumar Kolli, PhD, from Windber Research Institute in Windber, Pennsylvania.