News Release

MD Anderson launches collaborative initiative to reduce breast cancer disparities in Houston area

Cross-sector effort to lower breast cancer mortality rates among Black women in Harris County

Business Announcement

University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

Lorna McNeill, Ph.D.


Lorna McNeill, Ph.D.

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Credit: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

HOUSTON ― The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center today announced the launch of Texas Health Equity Alliance for Breast Cancer (THEAL), a community-wide health care initiative to reduce breast cancer disparities in the Houston area, particularly for Black women. 

THEAL builds upon the expertise of MD Anderson’s Department of Health Disparities Research in addressing the determinants of cancer disparities while leveraging the cancer prevention and control platform’s experience in leading cross-sector collaboratives for community impact. Using successful models implemented in other cities, particularly in Chicago, the initiative seeks to lower the Black/white breast cancer mortality gap in Harris County by 15% over the next decade.  

“Research shows there are myriad factors contributing to disparities in breast cancer outcomes for women in Harris County, resulting in significantly higher mortality rates among Black women,” said Lorna McNeill, Ph.D., chair of Health Disparities Research at MD Anderson. “The good news is that we can collaboratively identify and address the root causes of these disparities. Working together, with a shared vision, we can create meaningful change that will benefit women of all backgrounds.”  

Based on 2019 data, roughly 650 Black women in Harris County are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, and they face a 30% higher mortality rate from breast cancer than their white counterparts. A 2021 analysis by Susan G. Komen identified delayed screening, limited treatment access and systemic barriers as critical drivers of disparities in Houston. 

The three primary goals of THEAL are:  

  • Build a collaborative framework to facilitate shared planning, action, and learning among multiple sectors 

  • Establish a shared data platform to inform intervention development and drive implementation 

  • Identify and address the underlying causes of breast cancer disparities by leveraging expertise and resources of coalition members 

The core leadership of this county-wide initiative includes MD Anderson Cancer Center, Harris Health System, Texas Southern University, UTHealth  Houston School of Public Health Center for Health Care Data, The University of Texas at Austin Center for Health Communication, University of Houston Population Health, Angels Surviving Cancer, and The Cullen Trust for Health Care, who will serve as a lead convener for this work. 

These organizations are contributing expertise in health systems, population health, data analytics, mammography, patient navigation, academic research, faith-based support and more. 

The work of THEAL is supported by a $3.4M grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, a gift from Houston-based The Cullen Trust for Health Care, and through grateful patient families. 

“Texas Southern University is delighted to join with MD Anderson and our other collaborators to address the long-standing health disparities in breast cancer outcomes among the communities we serve,” said Omonike Olaleye, Ph.D., senior associate vice president for Research & Innovation at Texas Southern University. “This alliance is mission critical for us. We are committed to working collectively to prevent breast cancer, eliminate inequities and improve minority health outcomes in Harris County.” 

Read this press release in the MD Anderson Newsroom.

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