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Facts & Faith Fridays Hosts Croyle and Ciolino of National Cancer Institute

Jun 02, 2021

Facts and Faith Fridays

Last week’s installment of VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Facts & Faith Fridays featured two guest speakers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health – Henry Ciolino, Ph.D., director of the Office of Cancer Centers, and Bob Croyle, Ph.D., director of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences – to discuss how NCI-Designated Cancer Centers like Massey can work together with their communities for mutual benefit.

Ciolino and Croyle gave a brief history of NCI’s efforts to encourage cancer centers to engage in outreach and then took questions from attendees, including local faith leaders.

Facts & Faith co-founders Rudene Mercer Haynes, a partner at Hunton Andrews Firth law firm and member of Massey’s Advisory Board, and Robert Winn, M.D., director of VCU Massey Cancer Center, guided the discussion. The event, which occurred on May 28 at 3pm over Zoom, can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.

“One of the ways we’ve been trying to encourage a public health mindset in our cancer centers is to think about the geography of cancer,” Croyle shared with the Facts & Faith attendees during his talk. “You can go from one neighborhood to another in a city and you can go from one county to another in a state and see a very, very different situation in terms of health, in general, and health inequity in cancer.”

Although NCI’s cancer center program has been around since 1971, it wasn’t until 2012 that cancer centers were required to define their “catchment area” – mapping the places and people the cancer center serves – and uncover the specific cancer-related problems those communities face.


Then, in 2016, NCI emphasized community outreach and engagement within the Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) – the grant that provides cancer centers NCI designation – so that community engagement spans all aspects of the research program, from basic to clinical to  population science.

Ciolino and Croyle were a big part of those initiatives, which were intended to ensure that cancer centers are engaging with and serving the people who live within their catchment area.

“I don’t want to let this be lost on anyone here that both Dr. Ciolino and Dr. Croyle had to find courage to be able to stiffen the spine of others around them, and as a result it’s working,” said Winn, who also holds the Lipman Chair in Oncology at VCU Massey and serves as senior associate dean for cancer innovation at the VCU School of Medicine. “I really respect these two men and what they’ve done in support of what is not a radical idea – the benefits of cancer science should benefit all folks, in all communities.”

The idea behind community engagement is that it’s a two-way street, Ciolino explained in his portion of the presentation. Communities gain access to state-of-the-art cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, as well as clinical trials testing the latest great ideas before they’re widely available, while community partnerships shape the research and clinical care to maximize its impact on people’s lives.

Although Ciolino admitted that there are some cancer centers who are concerned about the new community engagement component of the CCSG application, he said there are plenty of other places who are already doing this type of work, including VCU Massey.

“The Community Outreach and Engagement requirement for many of us is overdue, and it gives us not only credibility to do research in the community but also responsibility for giving something back,” said Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., chair and professor of health behavior and policy at VCU School of Medicine as well as associate director for community outreach, engagement and health disparities and the Theresa A. Thomas Memorial Chair in Cancer Prevention at VCU Massey, who was attending the Facts & Faith Zoom meeting as a participant.

Sheppard then asked the speakers where they think cancer centers are heading in the future when it comes to community engagement.

“I think, sometime in the future, every time we visit a cancer center it will be obvious that this cancer center would not exist anywhere else in the country – that all of its work is linked to the community,” Ciolino said. “It will be as if the entire cancer center grew up to serve this community.”

Written by: Erin Hare, Ph.D.

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