CARPHA/NIH Grant Enables Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Research Across Region

St. George’s University Public Health Professors to Lead Research on Four Caribbean Islands

A $50,000 grant through the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will allow two St. George’s University professors to research breast and cervical cancer screening and why, in some cases, women in the region are choosing not to have them done.

SGUSOM students volunteer at a cervical cancer screening clinic on January 23, 2016.

SGUSOM students volunteer at a cervical cancer screening clinic on January 23, 2016.

Dr. Kamilah Thomas-Purcell, Assistant Professor in Master of Public Health Program at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) College of Osteopathic Medicine and Adjunct Professor at SGU, will serve as the study’s principal investigator, and work alongside Co-Investigators Dr. Christine Richards, Assistant Professor in SGU’s Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, and Mrs. Marva Primus-Joseph, RN, MPH, a Clinical Instructor at TA Marryshow Community College in Grenada.

“Cervical cancer is very preventable,” Dr. Thomas-Purcell said. “Something can be done about it, and it’s important to understand why women do not participate in preventative screening. Once we understand their perceptions within their social context we can develop relevant messages that educate and address barriers to screening.

In 2014, the team received a small grant and conducted a pilot study on the topic in Grenada. The CARPHA/NIH grant will allow them to expand their study to St. Vincent’s and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica, as well as expand their research in Grenada. For the pilot study, they conducted focus groups with 47 Grenadian women, with representatives from all seven of the island’s parishes. The group submitted a manuscript of the findings for publication.

“In Grenada, we found that many of barriers to breast cancer screening was related to the cost of mammography and health literacy was also an issue,” said Dr. Thomas-Purcell. “Many women didn’t quite understand that the Pap test detects cervical cancer in its early stage. Some of the barriers were cultural. Some women thought that women who are promiscuous get cervical cancer and they didn’t want to be associated with that. Also, women want to learn about cancer in group sessions. They want to be educated together, ask questions face-to-face and have that personal interaction.”

Funds from the larger grant will allow Dr. Thomas-Purcell’s team to hire and educate liaisons in each country, to purchase supplies, and to offer a token of appreciation to study participants. Dr. Thomas-Purcell hopes to conduct focus group discussions with at least 30 women in each country and interview oncology unit personnel to determine what types of prevention and treatment services are available. The team plans to commence the two-year study in January, beginning with research methods training of the liaisons, study participant recruitment and the scheduling of focus group sessions.

“We are delighted to have received one of the five NCI grants, which is a direct result of an application resulting from the grant writing workshop we hosted for NCI last year,” said Dr. Calum Macpherson, Dean of Research. “The work to be done will go a long way to helping understand breast and cervical cancers in the region, and we wish the investigators from the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine all the very best of luck with their study.”

In addition to her professorships, Dr. Thomas-Purcell is the Director of Interprofessional Primary Care Education within the Office of Research and Innovation at NSU.  She has also conducted research with the United Nations Population Fund, the American Foundation of AIDS Research (amFAR), and Moffitt Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Richards has served on SGU’s faculty since 2003. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Community Health Education and Promotion from Walden University.

Published on 2/4/16