Working to Reduce Cancer Disparities Across Our Community
February 5, 2022
The Office of Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity is committed to maximizing the impact of Simmons research through community engagement in the DFW Metroplex and beyond.
Texas has the highest uninsured rate of all 50 states and the U.S. territories – almost double the national uninsured rate. The Office of Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity (COEE) at Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center is committed to addressing the needs of underserved populations in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Metroplex. “Ours is a racially and ethnically diverse catchment area with a high cancer burden and unmet needs,” says Jasmin Tiro, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Population and Data Sciences at UT Southwestern.
Dr. Tiro serves as Associate Director for the COEE, which Simmons Cancer Center established in 2018 to lessen the impact of cancer on individuals in the catchment area and to focus on reducing disparities in cancer outcomes.
Closing the Gap
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, a 13-county region, is the fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area in the country. By 2030, the area’s population is projected to reach 9.3 million – up from 7.6 million in 2020. The DFW catchment area is a young, majority-minority community – 29% Hispanic or Latino, 16% Black, and 7% Asian, according to 2020 data.
Texas and Simmons Cancer Center registries show a rising number of new cases of some cancers, including liver and kidney cancer, in the DFW Metroplex compared with other parts of the country. Disparities in outcomes for several cancers are also evident, especially among the uninsured, those living in high-poverty areas, and Black populations.
To reduce the cancer burden and close the gap on disparities, the COEE strives to expand Simmons’ impact in the DFW Metroplex through four aims:
- Assess catchment cancer burden to prioritize research and outreach.
- Foster novel, catchment-relevant research via stakeholder engagement.
- Implement outreach programs aligned with cancer prevention guidelines.
- Monitor impact of research and outreach programs.
When I think of our Cancer Center, four words come to mind: care, research, education, and service – we pursue excellence in all four.
A Community-Driven Strategy
To understand catchment needs and provide guidance with respect to cancer-specific research and community outreach programs, Simmons established a community advisory board in 2019. The board comprises 25 ambassadors from diverse stakeholder groups who meet quarterly to enhance bidirectional communication with diverse communities across DFW to advance Simmons research and outreach programs and increase accrual of racial and ethnic groups under-represented in cancer clinical trials. To achieve the latter, they work closely with the Simmons Clinical Research Office to address barriers to trial participation by educating clinical and research staff about impediments and providing resources to overcome them.
One current initiative includes a program focused specifically on increasing the number and diversity of participants in our clinical trials. Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) funding for this program provides financial assistance for those facing barriers to access. In partnership with Simmons leaders, the advisory board also reviewed and awarded funding for two pilot projects focused on understanding telehealth barriers for seniors and the needs of cancer survivors with several comorbidities such as hypertension and diabetes. Our Research Advocate Program works alongside these programs to ensure that our research stays relevant to the needs of individuals living with cancer in our catchment area.
COEE outreach programs focus on delivering cancer prevention, screening, and diagnostic services to the underinsured and uninsured through mobile vans and free screening events. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office hosted virtual conversations with community leaders and members to understand how needs for cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship shifted. These comments are guiding how we adjust our services so that everyone can benefit from Simmons research discoveries.
The COEE also collaborates with UT Southwestern Communications, Marketing, and Public Affairs to develop promotional materials for special events and campaigns, such as National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week and the Fit2Be Cancer Free Step Challenge.
NCI Designation Reaffirms Commitment to COEE
In September 2021, the NCI renewed Simmons Cancer Center’s comprehensive designation, reaffirming its place among the country’s elite cancer centers. The designation reaffirms the importance of Simmons’ emphasis on community engagement efforts to eradicate cancer disparities in Texas and beyond.
“When I think of our Cancer Center,” says Dr. Tiro, “four words come to mind: care, research, education, and service – we pursue excellence in all four.”
The COEE is just one of the many ongoing initiatives at Simmons Cancer Center to fulfill its mission to ease the burden of cancer through groundbreaking discovery, transdisciplinary research, impactful community engagement, education, and exceptional patient care.
Dr. Tiro and her team are thrilled to continue creating strategies to achieve Simmons’ mission of impactful community engagement through more community outreach in the near future.