Northern Appalachia communities and Penn State fight cancer together

April 28, 2009

Unique partnership wins award for changing cancer research and lives

Many communities in rural Pennsylvania and New York are beleaguered by persistent poverty; residents in this area, known as northern Appalachia, are considered by the National Institutes of Health to be medically underserved. Cancer incidence and death are increased for many of these communities.

Cancer research is traditionally located in hospitals and laboratories, where the circumstances and environment associated with cancer risk is missing. Enter the Northern Appalachia Cancer Network (NACN) — a community-academic partnership that aims to reduce the cancer burden in Appalachian Pennsylvania and New York through community-based research. Led by Eugene Lengerich, professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine, this network is the recipient of the Northeast region’s W.K. Kellogg Foundation/C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

The partnership has many success stories. For example, members have developed new methods to bring mammography screening to places where women live and work, tested a new model to enhance survivorship from colorectal cancer, educated girls and young women about the vaccine against the human papillomavirus (the cause of 70 percent of all cervical cancer), and adapted experimental studies to help rural residents stop using smokeless tobacco.

Established in 1992, the NACN is one of the longest running and most successful networks of community cancer coalitions in the country. Twelve community cancer coalitions—representing 17 different counties with a population of 1 million people—and numerous local rural health care providers and clinics join the Penn State Colleges of Medicine and Agricultural Sciences, the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute to develop and deliver best practices for cancer reduction to their communities.

“There are more than 100 active members of these coalitions, and they understand their communities,” explained Lengerich. “They know where people congregate, what interests people, how to motivate people, where need may be greatest. They are passionate to reduce cancer risk in their neighborhood. This knowledge of the people, along with the research of Penn State, make an effective team.”

The regional W.K. Kellogg Foundation/C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award recognizes a project that best exemplifies the description of engaged institutions as defined by a Kellogg Commission report on the future of state and land-grant universities: “institutions that have redesigned their teaching, research, and extension and service functions to become even more sympathetically and productively involved with their communities.”

As the regional winner, Lengerich will make a presentation during the Outreach Scholarship Conference at the University of Georgia in Athens, scheduled for Sept. 28–30. Lengerich received the Penn State Faculty Outreach Award in 2008 and the Penn State Scholarship of Engagement Award this year for his work leading the project.


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Last Updated May 08, 2009