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Delaware continues work to end cancer disparities

National Cancer Institute

Delaware leads the nation in an aggressive form of breast cancer that has a disproportionate impact on Black women, especially younger women.

Earlier this month, a researcher with ChristianaCare updated the Delaware Cancer Consortium on potential steps to improve early detection and reduce such disparities.

Delaware Public Media’s Rebecca Baer speaks with ChristianaCare’s Director of Population Health Research Scott Siegel.

Delaware Public Media's Rebecca Baer interviews Dr. Scott Siegel, director of Population Health Research at ChristianaCare’s iREACH

In Delaware, black women are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer and more likely to die from it than other people. Researchers at ChristianaCare are now looking to past successes to try to address these disparities.

According to researchers, the First State is the first state to eliminate racial disparities involving colorectal cancers. There was a statewide effort to ensure black and white patients were getting the same access to treatment, which resulted in the elimination of a disparity in mortality rates that continues today. Scott Siegel, Ph.D., director of Population Health Research at ChristianaCare’s iREACH, hopes to repeat that success with other types of cancer, including breast cancer.

Dr. Scott Siegel, director of Population Health Research at ChristianaCare’s iREACH
Dr. Scott Siegel, director of Population Health Research at ChristianaCare’s iREACH

He said breast cancer is a little more complicated, especially the more aggressive forms, including triple negative, which disproportionately impacts African-American women and in which Delaware leads the nation in occurrences.

“Because the more aggressive breast cancer cases including triple negative tend to affect women at a younger age, a lot of times these cancers are not even being caught through screening,” he said. “They’re being caught more symptomatically; a woman or medical professional notices something on an exam and what you really want to do is detect cancers before you can palpate them.”

He and his colleagues are studying whether biomarkers found in blood can indicate a risk for developing aggressive breast cancers before they would even be seen on a mammogram. He also recommends community-based interventions to address risk factors like obesity and alcohol abuse as well as prevention efforts based on “hotspots.” Siegel found two such areas in New Castle County, one on the east side of Wilmington and another in Bear, where cases of triple negative breast cancer are particularly high.

“It’s more a matter of will than it is lack of knowledge at this point,” he said.. “We have enough tools in our toolbox that if we use them, we can make a meaningful dent.”

Siegel said his next step is to gather more data to identify cancer “hotspots” statewide.

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Rebecca Baer comes Delaware Public Media from The Florida Channel in Tallahassee where she covered state government and produced documentary features for the series, Florida Crossroads.