Niagara Gazette

December 13, 2011

Memorial, Roswell Park teaming up to provide better information about cancer

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

NIAGARA FALLS — When the diagnosis is cancer, the fear usually sets in quickly. Information is hard to find and treatment options are limited, especially for those uninsured or underserved in the community.

To combat the anxieties which stem from being in doubt, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and Roswell Park Cancer Institute have teamed up to help everyone in the Niagara Falls community get all the information they need, regardless of economic status.

It’s called the Cancer Education Resource Center, said Memorial President and CEO Joseph Ruffolo.

“Nurturing and maintaining this community is vital,” he said. “In this small community, the amount of people uninsured, underserved is in the thousands. But we’re not naive going into this. We know we’re not going to reach everyone.

But if we can make a difference in one person’s life, in three people’s lives ... it all makes it worthwhile.”

The center is located in the city-owned Community Resource Center at 1667 Linwood Ave., — on the corner of 18th Street and Linwood Avenue. Inside, residents can find pamphlets and brochures describing paths to preventing, detecting and treating cancer.

In addition, a community health advocate will also be on hand every Tuesday afternoon to answer questions and present relevant programming.

According to the New York State Department of Health, 27 individuals are diagnosed with cancer every week in Niagara County, while 10 die. And while the mortality rate has showed signs of decreasing, incidences are actually on the rise.

“We know there are higher than average rates of cancer diagnosis here,” Director of Community Outreach Charles Walker said. “You don’t have to look far to see why. Despite the prices of cigarettes being so high, we still have a lot of people who smoke here in Niagara County.”

The cancer resource center developed out of a National Institutes of Health-funded study Memorial and Roswell teamed with the University at Buffalo to complete, which focused on finding ways to better engage the community in conducting medical research.

The study was led by Deborah Erwin, Ph. D., director of Roswell Park’s Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research. It analyzed the effect of educational interventions on the willingness of people from communities similar to many in Niagara Falls, including those of low socioeconomic status, to participate in research projects.

Facilitators held 14 events around the community, attracting 153 people. Of those who attended, 114 actually participated. The study took blood samples from donors, kept anonymous, to look for specific cells which might indicate risk of cancer, called the TReg cell.

Erwin said the cell weakens the immune system. But not much was known heading into the study about how TReg cells differ between a healthy individual and one who is sick, because data on healthy individuals was virtually non-existent, she said.

“The immune system’s functions is important for research into how cancer is diagnosed,” she said. “But no mass study had been done on the general, healthy population before.”

Researchers found TReg cell levels were similar between males and females, as well as between Caucasians and African-Americans. The study also found older individuals had generally higher TReg cell levels, which she said makes sense because the immune system typically weakens as people age.

Those who smoke and don’t exercise also have elevated TReg cell levels, she said.

She said the study helped researchers focus on particular techniques which showed promise yielding high participation in the study, including having phlebotomist — a trained individual responsible for drawing blood — on-hand to personally alleviate fears from individuals who wouldn’t have participated if circumstances were different.