Public Release: 

Major new center at UIC to study racial/ethnic disparities in health

University of Illinois at Chicago

A major new center established today at the University of Illinois at Chicago will study why mortality rates for breast and other cancers are so much higher in African-Americans and Hispanics than in Caucasians. The initial focus is on breast cancer, a disease that particularly reflects this racial and ethnic disparity.

Under a $7.275 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, the UIC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities will explore how a range of individual and socio-ecological factors affects prognosis and outcome for breast cancer victims.

The UIC center is one of eight across the country receiving a total of $60.5 million over the next five years to study racial and ethnic disparities in health. Claude Allen, deputy secretary of health and human services, announced the awards this morning at the UIC College of Medicine.

According to the National Cancer Institute's latest annual report on cancer published last week, while death rates for breast cancer in white women fell 2.5 percent during the 1990s, for black women the drop was only 1 percent.

"Racial and ethnic disparities in the delivery of, access to and benefits from health care have been a longstanding issue," said Richard Warnecke, director of the center, associate director for cancer control and population science at the UIC Cancer Center and professor of epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health.

"For breast cancer, in particular, that gap is widening, and we need to understand why so that we can design better interventions."

Warnecke and his colleagues in the community and at UIC will study how a woman's neighborhood, social network (family, friends and other community contacts) and psychological profile (including issues of faith and fear) come into play when breast cancer is suspected.

"All these individual, demographic and sociocultural factors determine what kind of health care information a woman receives, how she interprets that information and whether and when she seeks treatment," Warnecke said.

According to Warnecke, data show that roughly equal proportions of women in white, black and Hispanic populations receive regular screening mammograms for breast cancer, yet minority women are more often diagnosed with more advanced disease, when treatment is least effective. As a result, compared with Caucasians, African-American women are twice as likely, and Hispanic women 1.5 times as likely, to die within five years following a breast cancer diagnosis.

The UIC researchers are partnering with the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois, an organization on the South Side of Chicago that addresses health disparities. Using the information gained from the research, the consortium will design and test a community-based strategy to help lower the incidence of death in minorities due to late-stage diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

A total of 1,200 breast cancer patients (500 Caucasians, 350 African-Americans, and 350 Hispanics) will be included in the study. The women will be identified from the Illinois State Cancer Registry and invited to participate.

The registry was established and is maintained by the state to support research on the causes of cancer and ways to improve survival among those diagnosed with the disease.

Other partners in the study are the UIC Midwest Latino Health Research and Policy Center, the UIC Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy and the UIC International Center for Health Leadership Development.

Warnecke said that the grant from the NCI, while supporting the current study in breast cancer, will also help lay the groundwork and infrastructure for a whole series of studies exploring how factors like "who we are, and how and where we live" affect our health outcomes.


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