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he Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention (HCCP) hasn't exactly gone hip-hop, but for several months it has been a major presence on the Health Channel of BET.com. And it's filling an information void. Although cancer takes more African-American lives than drugs, violence, or HIV, there has been a dearth of information on cancer risk reduction for blacks. In January 2003, HCCP and BET--the leading African American multi-media entertainment company--launched the Cancer Prevention Series, a Web-based resource for racially focused information on cancer prevention. "As the largest African American Web site, BET.com is uniquely positioned to get the message out to black people that they can minimize their cancer risks,"says Retha Hill, vice president for content at BET.com.

Their efforts couldn't have come at a better time; a special report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) released in April found that while cancer death rates are falling for all Americans, blacks in this country are still more likely to die of cancer than whites. Said the ACS in a statement, "The new statistics emphasize the continuing importance of eliminating these social disparities through public policy and education efforts." Projects like the Cancer Prevention Series represent a major step in the right direction, applying the benefits of modern technology. As one user emailed: "This Web site is great. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and this is the first time that I've really needed to look at what cancer is all about. This is a very unfortunate situation for me right now, but I’m a strong young black woman. Keep up the good work."

HCCP's good work online began with the blockbuster success of its Your Cancer Risk Web site (www.yourcancerrisk.harvard.edu), which provides risk assessments and prevention messages for the most common cancers in the United States. "The initial goal was clearly to get a site that is reliable, widely accessible, and would put cancer risk in context," explains Graham Colditz, DPH'86, HCCP's director of education and professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. After an extensive review of epidemiologic evidence, Colditz's team identified factors that either increase or decrease the risk of a variety of cancers. They then developed tools that enabled site users to compute their risk based on their individual backgrounds and behaviors.

The first round of development was time-intensive and didn't end at the site's launch. Like science itself, the project is continually evolving. "We have a strategy for revisiting the whole system every couple of years," Colditz explains. The team regularly flags areas for review and updating. As they revise the site, Colditz and colleagues can draw upon feedback from the tens of thousands who visit it each month.

The BET collaboration and Your Cancer Risk are only two of several recent communications initiatives by HCCP. Others include the development of a breast-cancer Web site in association with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the creation of cancer education pamphlets with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the production of an award-winning video for health professionals and medical students (see sidebar). According to Karen Emmons, professor of society, human development, and health at the School, the outreach effort is designed to correct a popular misconception: "People still perceive cancer as an uncontrollable disease. We haven't yet made the impact that one would expect, related to the knowledge of how much cancer is preventable."

To provide the muscle for a bigger impact, HCCP is formulating a three-year, $8.7 million communications campaign to bring cancer prevention to the public. The campaign's initiatives will be tailored to a variety of populations. One of the first priorities is to expand Your Cancer Risk and construct a Spanish-language version of the site. Others would be directed at another underserved segment of the population--youth and teens. “They aren’t worried about their risk of having cancer at 70. One of the challenges is to frame the message that captures their interest," Colditz explains. To this end, HCCP is exploring the development of a Web site targeting youth and adolescents, the design of school interventions, and the creation of a cancer prevention exhibit for museums. "We've told people that 50 percent of all cancers are preventable," says Michelle Samplin-Salgado, HCCP's communications manager. "Now we need to let them know what to do and how to do it."

Chelsea Merz

 

HCCP Goes Public to Stop Cancer

About Breast Cancer
This information-rich addition to the Susan G. Komen Foundation Web site was launched in October 2001. The Web feature (www.komen.org/abc) is tailored for highly motivated information seekers and thus combines the comprehensiveness of a textbook with the readability of a newspaper article. The site explores risk factors and screening tests as well as all manner of treatment options, from experimental drugs to alternative therapies. The content also addresses subjects like genetics and controversies in breast cancer, which often get short shrift in other media.

Multilingual Brochures
HCCP has created a pair of brochures--You Can Prevent Colorectal Cancer and Take Control: Get Tested for Colon Cancer--which have been translated into eight languages for the Massachusetts Colorectal Cancer Working Group. They can be downloaded at www.hsph.harvard.edu/cancer/materials/printed.html and are also available on www.mass.gov.


Community Voices
In this video, HCCP taps the insights and experience of health care workers, community leaders, and academic experts to illustrate how cancer patients' social and cultural values--attitudes toward authority, gender, privacy, physical contact, and religion--can affect their responses to health-education and treatment. It has been hailed as a top-notch teaching tool for health care professionals and trainees and has won the American Medical Writers Association Award of Excellence. For more information check out: www.hsph.harvard.edu/cancer/materials/videos.html.

 

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