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First Delaware Cancer Moonshot examines cancer disparities in First State

Delaware Public Media

The National Cancer Moonshot initiative – with the goal of eradicating cancer nationwide – brought members of Delaware’s cancer prevention and treatment community together Wednesday.

The moonshot summit at Christiana Care is one of over 270 events held around the country to support the initiative championed by Vice President Joe Biden after brain cancer claimed his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden in 2015.

Last Wednesday, the Vice President announced a series of partnerships involving government, industry and academia aimed to bolster initiative.


He couldn’t attend the event in Newark at Christiana Care, but spoke in a video message.

"Imagine a day perhaps when my grandchildren have children of their own when the threat of cancer is a distant memory," Biden said. "When their children can be vaccinated for cancer as routinely as we vaccinate for measles and mumps."

He says the moonshot’s goal is to propel the nation toward major cancer breakthroughs he believes are not far away.

Dr. Jennifer Sims-Mourtada is among those seeking such breakthroughs.

The Director of Translational Breast Cancer Research at Christiana Care’s Graham Center is researching triple negative breast cancer.

Cases of this hard to detect late-stage cancer are rising in African Americans - especially in Delaware. The First State’s African American population has seen more instances of it than any other state, and is just behind Washington D.C

"You would think this might be because they’re not getting screened and they’re not coming in but this is actually not true," Sims-Mourtada said. "Our screening programs have been extremely successful and our African American mammographic screening rates are actually a little bit better than that for Caucasians."


Sims-Mourtada is exploring how the immune system and patterns in blood cells could be a key to distinguishing between invasive cancers -  like triple negative - and noninvasive breast cancers.

She says another big component of her work is finding new methods to test emerging breast cancer prevention drugs. She says breast cancer doesn’t manifest the same way in mice as in humans, making results unreliable.

The work is critical.  African Americans have a higher breast cancer mortality rate than other groups both in Delaware and nationwide, and research has shown socioeconomic status is not a key factor.

Congressman John Carney challenged local healthcare providers and researchers to determine what role Delaware can play in defeating cancer.


"How are we going to know we’re there? Unlike the venture of landing on the moon, it really takes a roadmap, certain goals and objectives – like landing on the moon – to get there," Carney said. "But it’s going to be a lot harder for us. Because the moon doesn’t shine so brightly when you look at all of the faces of cancer."

Delaware has made progress in the fight against cancer. From 1997 – 2001 to 2007-2011 the state’s cancer death rate decreased by 15-point-8 percent.

Christiana Care is partnering with other agencies like the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia on the moonshot initiative in the First State.

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