Rutgers develops Cancer Health Justice Lab in Newark

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NEWARK, NJ — The Cancer Health Justice Lab at the Rutgers School of Public Health has launched a series of educational programming on cancer information, prevention and treatment. 

Run by Pamela Valera, assistant professor of urban-global public health, and students at the Rutgers School of Public Health, the multidisciplinary research lab is committed to addressing the inequity of cancer prevention resources and practices in underserved communities. 

“Cancer is a widespread issue with increasing disparities related to accessing care,” Valera said. “CHJL works to encourage equal distribution and utilization of health resources through education and information sharing, promoting lifestyle changes, and strong partnerships with the community.”

The mission of CHJL, which is funded by the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the National Cancer Institute, is to make cancer education accessible to medically underserved populations facing disparities due to socioeconomic, immigration or insurance status, as well as, criminal record, race, age and sex. However, the resources CHJL provides can benefit anyone seeking information on cancer prevention and care.

One of CHJL’s main resources, Cancer 101, is a series of animated videos that were produced to help medically underserved populations improve their trust with the medical care system and promote health. The videos cover topics such as cancer risks, the role of genes, cancer diagnoses, basic cancer treatment and cancer screening.

“The videos came out of a general need we saw from those who wanted more information about reducing their cancer risk,” Valera said. “There was a need for easily accessible and understandable information on cancer, prevention and treatment. The videos are also based on research I have been fortunate to do in prisons.”

The CHJL website features a cancer treatment center locator, which assists users in finding the care that they need.

“The cancer treatment locator tool is a huge resource for individuals who can’t travel to access care,” said Nicholas Acuna, an MPH student and a research assistant at CHJL. “Location and distance from treatment are often barriers for individuals with limited resources to utilize and seek care, so being able to find a center that’s close to home may be a huge motivator for individuals to get the care that they need.”

The CHJL website also provides cancer prevention resources through a digital library that focuses on different cancer prevention areas and topics. Within the library, there are articles on diet and nutrition, physical activity and exercise, smoking and tobacco, sun protection, vaccines, and cancer screening.

“I want people to use the website and resources we have available,” Valera said. “The resources are what we as professionals saw a need for and what the communities we are trying to assist told us they needed. If the information on this website encourages someone to ask their doctor a question about what they saw, I see that as a success. The growth of this site will come from the flow and access of information among those who have very little access.”

CHJL is also led by Joachim Sackey, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Health Professions; returning citizens; and collaborators from other universities.