The National Cancer Institute's special populations networks for cancer awareness, research, and training


  • Mark Clanton MD, MPH

    Corresponding author
    1. Cancer Care and Delivery Systems, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland
    • Cancer Care and Delivery Systems, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 31 Center Drive, Room 11A03, Bethesda, MD 20892
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    • Fax: (301) 435-9225

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) conducts and supports scientific discovery and its application to achieve a future, when cancer is uncommon and all cancers are treated. One key goal of the NCI Challenge Goal 2015 is to correct an unacceptable fact that the burden of cancer is borne unequally and unjustly in our society.

To effectively accomplish this goal, new understanding is needed to explain the social, cultural, environmental, biological, and behavioral determinants of cancer, their interactions, and how they contribute to disparities in cancer care and prevention. NCI is strongly committed to a wide-ranging research program that will address these cancer health disparities across the cancer control continuum from disease prevention to end-of-life care.

This includes working with local communities to develop interventions targeted to the specific needs of underserved populations. Community-based programs are ideal venues for designing and testing interventions among underserved populations. By understanding the health experiences of underserved communities, researchers are able to develop more culturally appropriate and accessible interventions; health care providers are more likely to arrange for their patients to participate in cutting-edge clinical research; and cancer patients and people at risk have access to the full range of state-of-the-art cancer services.

NCI's launch in 2000 of the Special Populations Networks (SPN) for cancer awareness, research, and training dramatically demonstrated our commitment to promptly and directly address cancer health disparities in local communities with bold initiatives to reduce and, ultimately, end blatant injustices within the health care system.

The SPN program was started in response to the needs of underserved populations throughout the United States for meaningful cancer information, training, and research. The SPN initiative also reflected NCI's realization of the importance of supporting community-based research and training of minority researchers, who represent populations with an unequal burden of cancer. The goal of SPN was to match the needs of the community for culturally-appropriate health information to the mandate of NCI to perform community-based research and train minority researchers.

This special Supplement provides a report on the achievements and activities of the SPN program during its 5 years of innovative work. The NCI funded 18 SPNs during that period and the results from their efforts are substantial and well worth your time and review.

It is especially gratifying to see the plethora of original research published by both junior and minority biomedical researchers, who were key participants in all of the SPN organizations. NCI understands the critical need for developing a cadre of researchers and clinicians prepared to effectively address cancer health disparities. As you will glean from the following reports, the SPN program was a signal success as a model and forum for increasing the number of culturally-sensitive, well-trained investigators.

The most significant achievement of the SPN program is the establishment by NCI of a follow-on initiative—the Community Networks Program (CNP). In a time of restricted budgets, NCI leadership and the National Cancer Advisory Board have chosen to nurture this important program for another 5 years at a commitment of $95 million.

The CNP, with 25 grantees, builds on the work and goals of the SPN program to reduce cancer disparities at the community level. To achieve this goal, CNP will use the SPN paradigm encompassing education, research, and training—a standard now also frequently used by other federal health care agencies as a model for programs addressing the health needs of minority and underserved communities.

Cancer research is a model for the biomedical revolution, and the discoveries we are making in cancer-related genetics, genomics, and proteomics are being extended to advances against diabetes and other chronic diseases. In the same way, the success of the SPN program and CNP can be extended beyond cancer to address the problems of the widespread disparities that exist in the rest of our health care delivery system.