UT Health San Antonio has received $4.1 million from the American Cancer Society to fund a new research into the cancer-related health burdens that disproportionately affect the South Texas Latino community. 

Announced Tuesday and launching almost immediately, the new Avanzando Equidad de Salud Center: Latino Cancer Health Equity Research Center will aim to provide equitable cancer care, decrease the burden of cancer and improve health outcomes for Latino patients. 

Research scholars will study the social determinants of health assessments from Mays Cancer Center patients to research health equity in cancer prevention, screening, treatment and survivorship at the center, which will be headquartered at UT Health San Antonio. 

The new center is the result of one of 89 discovery science grants funded through a $54.3 million investment by the American Cancer Society. 

Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, leader of the Salud America! Latino health equity program and head of the Department of Population Health Sciences and the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio will lead the center with two scholar-led cancer control research projects. 

“Our new center will conduct a unique combination of community-engaged research, training, patient assessment and advocacy to address the social determinants of health,”  Ramirez said, “such as access to health care, financial strain and food insecurity that deter Latinos from equitable access to cancer care, prevention, early detection and treatment.”

The need for the center is supported by data that shows Latinos living in South Texas face a disproportionate risk of getting cancer. 

Of the roughly 5 million residents of South Texas, which stretches from San Antonio to the Texas-Mexico border, 69% are Latino. That population has a much higher chance of getting certain cancers than the South Texas population as a whole, according to the South Texas Health Status Review of 2018.

Some social determinants of health affect South Texans disproportionately compared to the state average. Compared to the rest of the state, these residents are more likely to be low-income, uninsured, not have a primary healthcare provider and live under greater financial strain.

Ramirez said the center will target these inequities, which create a heavy cancer burden on South Texans. 

In addition to working closely with the Mays Cancer Center, the new center will also connect the patient with UT Health and community resources and organizations. 

The center will also engage members of the San Antonio community to help educate and advocate for system and policy changes to improve health equity. Similar to the Salud America! Latino health equity program, the center will create peer-modeled content and advocacy toolkits for policy changes. 

One researcher will aim to increase vaccination in adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. Another will aim to improve breast cancer treatment adherence among Latinas. Additional research scholar projects will be added over time, according to UT Health San Antonio. 

“With this level of community engagement, we expect the Avanzando Equidad de Salud Center to not only improve cancer care and outcomes for Latinos and all people in South Texas, but also to advance a new generation of scholars and researchers concerned with cancer health equity,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said the Mays Cancer Center will be in a better position to deliver comprehensive cancer care to its patients across South Texas thanks to the Latino Cancer Health Equity Research Center’s efforts in research, mentoring and creating a standardized screener for social determinants of health. 

The American Cancer Society’s Chief Scientific Officer William Dahut said the organization was proud to announce the new grant awardees and research projects. 

“It’s very exciting, as we will fund studies that will increase our understanding of genetics and cancer risk and explore better ways to find, treat and survive cancer, focusing on equity and optimizing quality of life for cancer survivors.”

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.