SBU’s Linda Mermelstein leads community cancer awareness effort

By Daniel Dunaieff

Certain groups of people on Long Island have a much higher incidence of a particular type of cancer than others.

On an age-adjusted rate, African American men, for example, were almost twice as likely to develop prostate cancer from 2014 to 2018 as Caucasians. Out of 100,000 African American men, 216.6 had prostate cancer, compared to 123.9 out of 100,000 white men, according to data from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Linda Mermelstein. Photo by Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Linda Mermelstein, Associate Director of the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement at Stony Brook Cancer Center, is working with her team to address these glaring differences and empower community members to protect their health and make decisions enlightened.

“A lot of our focus is on addressing the disparities” in cancer care in various communities on Long Island, Dr. Mermelstein said.

The Cancer Center’s Outreach and Engagement office has taken many steps to educate the public about research and care. The center has a mobile mammography unit, which travels to communities to provide access to breast cancer screening.

On June 5, at the Latina Sisters Support Inc. Spanish Fair in Brentwood, Cancer Center Community Outreach and Engagement staff provided mobile mammography screening and cancer prevention and screening education.

At this event, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services provided human papillomavirus and Covid-19 vaccines and the Stony Brook School of Health Professionals offered blood pressure screening.

An information abyss

Dr Jedan Phillips. Photo by Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Jedan Phillips, medical director of Stony Brook Health Outreach and Medical Education and associate professor of family, population and preventive medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine, explained that Covid-19 exposed the “chasm” between what the health profession believed and the reality of what works and what doesn’t.

During the pandemic, Stony Brook University brought an immunization pod to Uniondale in Nassau County, which is a predominantly African-American community. “Because we had no relationship there, we might have wasted over 200 doses of vaccine” as residents were reluctant to get vaccinated, he said. “Even though [Stony Brook] offered something that would help, people chose against. It’s not about the vaccine. It is something deeper.

Dr Phillips said East Elmhurst, Queens, where he grew up, has been “ravaged by Covid. I know at least 10 people in my community who were regular figures in my life who have passed away. I saw how vulnerable we were as a band and felt I had to get involved.

Dr. Phillips, who has a family medicine practice in East Patchogue, in collaboration with Dr. Yuri Jadotte, assistant professor and associate program director for preventive medicine residency in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook , created three focus groups to survey African American men’s views and understanding of prostate cancer.

Many African American men do not get screened for prostate cancer, even though such screenings could lead to earlier treatment and better outcomes.

By hearing what inspires African American men on Long Island to take action, Dr. Phillips hopes to tailor the information to this type of performance.

“It’s important to listen and understand,” Dr. Phillips said. Understanding what motivates people and seeking to provide the formats in which they prefer to access information can help build community connection and demonstrate cultural compassion.

Part of Dr. Phillips’ focus on preventative medicine comes from his experience with his father, who died of complications from diabetes. His father, who was an inspiration to him, “didn’t live preventively”, which made managing his health more difficult, Dr Phillips said.

With the many programs offered by the Office for Community Outreach and Engagement, Dr. Mermelstein said the group has four main goals.

Dr. Jedan Phillips provides medical care.

“We want to monitor and understand what the cancer burden is in our catchment area,” which includes Nassau and Suffolk County, she said. “A big part of what we do is to identify cancer-related issues” and understand barriers to cancer care, such as education, screening, diagnosis and treatment.

Second, it wants to provide cancer prevention, screening, education and community referral services. Third, the group has two-way engagement, with researchers getting to know the community and community advocates and the community learning about the research process.

Finally, the group seeks to catalyze research by focusing on disparities, providing research services to the whole community based on specific needs.

One of Dr. Mermelstein’s first actions after leading this team in 2019 was to create a community advisory board for the Stony Brook Cancer Center.

Janine Logan, vice president of communications and population health with the Long Island Health Collaborative, sits on that advisory board. “What excites me the most is that the committee understands the importance of knowing what your community thinks and needs,” Logan said. .

Logan is pleased with the work Stony Brook Cancer Center is doing to educate residents about lifestyle behaviors that can contribute to cancer, such as smoking, inactivity, and nutrition.

“They’ve done a lot of work reaching out and educating communities to help them understand that these simple, changeable behaviors can reduce their risk” of developing cancer, Logan said.

The Cancer Center’s effort to educate the public about the dangers of the sun dovetails with some of the work she has done at the Long Island Health Collaborative.

Indeed, the Cancer Center Community Outreach and Engagement hosted a “Block the sun, not the fun” rally on May 7 at Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove.

Stony Brook Cancer Center also works with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services Cancer Prevention and Health Promotion Coalition to provide information on sunscreen safety.

In addition to the disparity among African American men who develop prostate cancer, the outreach effort also addressed the difference between Hispanic women who have a higher incidence of cervical cancer than the general population. non-Hispanic Caucasian.

In Suffolk County, about 10.2 Hispanic and Latino women per 100,000 Hispanic and Latino women develop cervical cancer, which is higher than 5.9 per 100,000 non-Hispanic white women. , according to the National Cancer Institute.

The human papillomarvirus is estimated to cause approximately 36,500 cases of cancer in men and women each year in the United States. Vaccination against HPV, which works best before exposure to the virus, can prevent 33,700 of these cancers. Because the vaccine does not prevent all cancers, women still need screening to protect themselves.

Previously employed for 22 years at the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Dr Mermelstein, who holds a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health, retired briefly before taking up this position at Stony Brook .

“I wanted to do something to help fight cancer after I retired, so I contacted Stony Brook Cancer Center and started doing this job about four months after I retired,” she explained. .

Those interested in contacting the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement can call 631-444-4263 or email [email protected]