President Biden launches $50M initiative to improve cancer outcomes in low-income areas

By Leo O'Connor, Editor in Chief

June 26, 2023 -- The Biden-Harris administration on Monday awarded $50 million to launch the Persistent Poverty Initiative which aims to alleviate the effects of persistent poverty on cancer outcomes in low-income areas.

The program, called the Persistent Poverty Initiative, aims to build research capacity, foster cancer prevention research, and promote the implementation of community-based programs.

It is the first major program to address the structural and institutional factors of persistent poverty in the context of cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The initiative is coordinated by the NIH National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The award creates five Centers for Cancer Control Research in Persistent Poverty Areas to advance key priorities of the Administration's Cancer Moonshot, the NIH said, adding that the program will look to reduce inequities in the structural drivers of cancer. It also will aim to prevent more cancers before they start by reducing tobacco use and making sure people have access to healthy food.

Persistent poverty areas are defined as those where 20% or more of the population has lived below the federal poverty line for the past 30 years. People who live in such areas have a higher incidence of cancer, experience delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment, and are more likely to die from cancer than people who do not live in poverty, the NIH noted.

At the same time, however, there has been limited research on how to improve cancer outcomes in persistent poverty areas.

"Persistent poverty is a place-based and community phenomenon that reflects a failure of the structures and institutions in society, including healthcare," Shobha Srinivasan, senior advisor for health disparities and health equity in NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, said in a statement. "Conducting research to understand the connections between institutions — such as social, economic, and health systems — and persistent poverty is the only way to inform changes to social conditions and determinants of health that will ultimately improve overall health, cancer control, and cancer outcomes."

Each center will work with targeted low-income communities to implement and measure the effectiveness of structural interventions for cancer control and prevention, follow-up care, and survivorship. The centers will conduct research in areas such as reducing obesity, improving nutrition, increasing physical activity, helping people quit smoking, and improving living conditions through supplemental income, the NIH said. In addition, the centers will help train a pipeline of early-career investigators to work with underserved communities in conducting multilevel intervention research.

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