For 14 years, researchers from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences (ComArtSci) have partnered with the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP) to study the effects of environmental exposures on breast cancer risk.
In March, that partnership grew when a team of ComArtSci researchers, led by Kami Silk, associate dean of research and director of the Health and Risk Communication M.A. program, received two grants totaling nearly $500,000 to facilitate their on-going research in the field. The grants are co-funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Tailoring Educational and Outreach Materials
The first project to receive funding, led by Silk and her research partner Richard Schwartz, professor and principal investigator of the BCERP at MSU, aims to better understand public perception of breast cancer and the environment. The team was awarded an Opportunity Fund Grant of $70,286 from the BCERP Coordinating Center.
For this project, titled “Cross-site Formative Audience Analysis Research to Facilitate Effective Outreach Efforts and Communication Strategies," the duo has partnered with community advocates across the U.S. to conduct focus group sessions with individuals from varying geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds to better understand their needs and risks.
“Partnerships are important for receiving Opportunity Funds due to the transdisciplinary nature of the BCERP. So a multi-site project with advocates across the country made a lot of sense, especially because most advocacy groups do not have resources to do this level of formative research with their communities,” said Silk.
Findings from this research will also be used to help create a national survey to gather information about breast cancer and the environment from a wider and more diverse group, ultimately helping to better tailor education and outreach materials to the needs of different audience segments.
Training Pediatric Healthcare Providers
The second project to receive funding aims to design and deliver advanced training to pediatric healthcare providers on the topic of breast cancer and the environment. This type of training will help facilitate increased communication with patients and caregivers about adopting breast cancer risk reduction practices, particularly for adolescents.
The project, titled “Training Pediatric Health Care Providers as a Primary Information Source for Communicating Environmental Risks for Breast Cancer," received an NIH R21 grant for $414,367 and is being developed by Silk, Sandi Smith, from the Department of Communication, and Stacey Fox, from the School of Journalism. The funding will provide the means for the team, joined by the Michigan State Medical Society and Michigan Hospital Association, to create a program that will build continuing education units for doctors.
“One of the things that emerged over our 14 years with the BCERP is the need to reach beyond the lay public as a primary target audience for information about breast cancer and the environment. We need to include health care providers in the conversation because they are trusted sources of health information and they can help parents and caregivers understand how to reduce early environmental exposures,” said Silk.
With this training, doctors will use continuing medical education units to become better informed on the risks associated with exposure to certain chemicals – such as PFOA and BPA – as well as learn the results of BCERP research, including both epidemiology and biology studies. The training will focus on helping pediatric health care providers translate BCERP research into actionable recommendations for parents and caregivers, such as what chemicals to avoid whenever possible.
“There is a window of susceptibility for girls as they go through puberty. Reducing environmental exposures during this critical time frame is a precaution that makes sense based on BCERP emerging science,” said Silk. “There was a genuine interest in the idea of training pediatricians about environmental exposures as a strategy to reach parents and caregivers with BCERP findings and recommendations. We are excited to be able to develop communication training that is evidence-based and useful for pediatric health care professionals.”
By Nikki W. O'Meara