Health Team

Duke program helps minority women navigate cancer

Posted October 18, 2012 12:15 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2012 12:45 p.m. EDT

One of the greatest challenges in preventing deaths from breast cancer is reaching minority populations.

For example, more white women are diagnosed with breast cancer, but more African-American women die from the disease – partly due to late diagnosis.

An outreach program at Duke Cancer Institute, called Cancer Navigator, is proving to save lives.

Three years ago, navigator Valerie Worthy guided a patient through an anxious hospital visit, awaiting results of a biopsy to show whether her cancer had spread.

Worthy is also a breast cancer survivor with a mission to help other minority women.

“You need to put a face on what cancer survivorship looks like, and you also have to put a face on what caring looks like,” said Worthy, who is also a registered nurse at Duke.

The biopsy was negative for the patient, whose initial screening was the result of Duke Cancer Institute's outreach program, which works through churches and other organizations in minority communities.

Worthy was a founder of one of those organizations, called the Sister's Network Triangle.

“Especially in the African-American community, people equate cancer with death,” she said. “So people think if they don't know then they won't have to worry about it.”

Different groups of minority women have many barriers to screening and care, including transportation issues, ways to pay for care and language barriers.

The cancer navigator program was part of a multi-site study of about 12,000 patients. It's published in this month's Journal of Cancer Epidemiology.

“Every single site found that patient navigation was effective in that window, narrowing the time between suspicious finding and diagnostic resolution,” said Stephen Patierno, deputy director of the Duke Cancer Institute and the senior author of the study.

Duke is planning to expand their Cancer Navigator program to help more underserved populations get the care they need.