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Massey leading statewide survey to improve cancer prevention and curb health disparities among Virginians

Sep 10, 2019


Researchers at VCU Massey Cancer Center have designed a comprehensive health assessment survey to better understand how patterns in social, behavioral and environmental factors can inform improved health care practices and services for all Virginians.

The project, titled ‘Together for Health – Virginia,’ is led by Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director for cancer prevention and control and Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., Chair in Cancer Research at Massey as well as professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Medicine. He is collaborating on this study with Massey Cancer Prevention and Control research members David Wheeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the VCU Department of Biostatistics, and Sunny Jung Kim, Ph.D., M.S., M.A., assistant professor in the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy .

Data collected through Together for Health – Virginia will be used to guide Massey in targeting community outreach and education around behaviors such as tobacco cessation, obesity/weight management, HPV vaccination, cancer screening and early detection. It will also serve to identify causes for cancer disparities across the state, including financial barriers, health literacy, access to health care services and medical mistrust.

Massey is one of the only safety-net cancer centers in Virginia, meaning that it treats all patients regardless of their health insurance coverage or ability to pay for treatment. As such, Massey plays an important role as a cancer care provider for high-risk and underserved populations, including a large proportion of black, Hispanic, uninsured and Medicaid patients.

“Effective cancer prevention and control research and outreach efforts at Massey rest on our ability to deeply understand the unique strengths and needs of the community we serve,” Fuemmeler said. “This requires a thorough grasp of the multiple social, behavioral and environmental factors that impact our cancer risk. By looking at patterns in the data, we aim to find ways to improve health and health care for all Virginians.”

A catchment area, as defined by the National Cancer Institute, is the geographic area and population from which a cancer center draws the majority of its patients. Massey has a catchment area covering over 50 counties in central and eastern Virginia, and has satellite clinics and outreach initiatives all over the state.

The researchers hope to enlist the participation of at least 2,000 Virginians from its catchment area and beyond and will also use data from this initiative along with data from other institutional, community and state agencies to improve effective cancer prevention and communication strategies across the state.

The survey includes questions about residents’ health, home, family life, work, how they get health information and how they use health care services. All information will be kept confidential. Surveys are being sent to a random selection of households in Virginia. However, coming in December, the survey will also be available via a mobile phone app that can be downloaded to a smartphone or other mobile device. Participation in this survey is completely voluntary.   

Together for Health – Virginia is funded by a one-year supplement to Massey’s National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant of more than $225,000.

To find out more information about the study or how to complete this survey via the mobile phone app, please visit:

Written by: Blake Belden

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