Cancer History Project launches oral history podcast

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The Cancer History Project’s podcast will provide a collection of oral histories and interviews with the people who have shaped oncology as we know it. 

In the inaugural episode, Robert Winn, director of VCU Massey Cancer Center, and John Stewart, founding director of LSU Health/LCMC Health Cancer Center, speak with Harold Freeman, the father of patient navigation. The full transcript of their conversation is available here, and you can subscribe to the podcast here

The evolution of the health equity movement: Black History Month panel

On Feb. 23 at 7pm tune in live for a panel discussion:  

  • Robert A. Winn, MD
    Guest editor, Cancer History Project;
    Director and Lipman Chair in Oncology, VCU Massey Cancer Center;
    Senior associate dean for cancer innovation and professor of pulmonary disease and critical care medicine, VCU School of Medicine
  • Otis W. Brawley, MD
    Co-editor, Cancer History Project;
    Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University
  • Edith P. Mitchell, MD
    Member, President’s Cancer Panel;
    Clinical professor of medicine and medical oncology,
    Department of Medical Oncology;
    Director, Center to Eliminate Cancer Disparities;
    Associate director, diversity affairs;
    Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson University
  • John H. Stewart, MD, MBA
    Professor of surgery, Section of Surgical Oncology;
    Founding director, LSU Health/LCMC Health Cancer Center

Register here.

Quote of the week

First, we should understand that poverty is not a hopeless condition and that we can help people deal with it. Too many people lack insurance or access to care; a humane society should feel compelled to address that.

Harold Freeman

Harold Freeman in the archives

An interview with Harold Freeman, the founder of patient navigation, appears in a 1994 edition of the NCCS Networker. A link to the whole issue of the Winter 1994 NCCS Networker appears here. An excerpt follows: 

Cancer is not merely a scientific problem. Cancer always occurs under human circumstances—social, economic, physical, cultural, and political circumstances. 

Poor Americans have a 10-15% higher cancer mortality rate. This is related to what poverty means. Poor people tend to have substandard housing, low educational levels, and a risk-promoting lifestyle characterized by high smoking rate, high alcoholic intake, and high-fat diet. Poor people also have diminished access to preventive and early healthcare. Poverty and cancer therefore are usually a lethal combination. 

African-Americans have a lower 5 year survival rate—38%, compared with 55% for white. But the disparity in survival is primarily related to economic status. About 33 percent of Black Americans are poor, compared with 11 percent of white Americans. Black and white Americans in the same economic status show very little difference in survival rates. 

Poverty does not respect race. Any group with inadequate income, housing, and education will suffer a higher death rate, whether they’re white Appalachians, Black New Yorkers, or any other group. 

That’s a major point. If the disparity in survival rates was primarily due to race in itself, that would drive a different solution to the problem. We’d probably need to explore molecular biology or genetics for solutions. But clearly the major disparities in outcome between races are due to social factors, which suggests a different approach. 

Dr. Harold Freeman, president of the American Cancer Society, presents the 1989 Lasalle D. Leffall Award to Dr. Louis Sullivan, US Secretary of Health and Human Services, for his efforts to increase cancer awareness in minority and economically disadvantaged communities, at a University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center symposium.

The new NCI Center to Reduce Health Disparities will step beyond the Institute’s mission of advancing cancer research, and attempt to influence policy, said Harold Freeman, director of the new center.

“I believe it’s very critical for us to begin to think of how we can gather information that will bring evidence that can influence policy,” Freeman said to the NCI Special Populations Working Group Oct. 30.

Freeman, who is also the chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel and the CEO of North General Hospital in Harlem, made the point repeatedly, both on his own and in response to questions from the group that advises the soon-to-be-abolished NCI Office of Special Populations Research and will advise Freeman’s center that will replace it.

Freeman said he joined NCI in order to pursue the center’s ambitious new agenda. “I don’t think my coming to this thing is about business as usual,” Freeman said. “I could stay in New York if that was the case.”

According to Freeman, the Institute’s focus on cancer research, education, and communications is insufficient to solve the problem of poor health outcomes observed in some ethnic groups. “I think that we must take position that we want to end up changing America,” Freeman said.

St. Jude celebrates 60 years

When St. Jude founder Danny Thomas opened St. Jude on February 4, 1962, he created an organization as rare today as it was then: a research hospital where children with catastrophic diseases receive free cutting-edge medical care.

St. Jude is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a year-long slate of events commemorating the legacy of advances in the understanding and treatment of pediatric cancer and other deadly diseases. As one of the largest and most beloved health care charities in the country, St. Jude is a unique organization, blending clinical care with scientific research. At the same time, the organization’s leaders are laying the groundwork across scientific, clinical and global operations that will prepare the institution for another 60 years.

“We remain committed to the vision of Danny Thomas,” said James R. Downing, MD, President and CEO of St. Jude. “In answering the charge of finding cures and saving children, St. Jude has launched the largest strategic expansion in its history to further scientific knowledge, increase cure rates and develop global networks to improve access to pediatric cancer care.”

This column features the latest posts to the Cancer History Project by our growing list of contributors

The Cancer History Project is a free, web-based, collaborative resource intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act and designed to continue in perpetuity. The objective is to assemble a robust collection of historical documents and make them freely available. 

Access to the Cancer History Project is open to the public at You can also follow us on Twitter at @CancerHistProj, or follow our podcast.

Is your institution a contributor to the Cancer History Project? Eligible institutions include cancer centers, advocacy groups, professional societies, pharmaceutical companies, and key organizations in oncology. 

To apply to become a contributor, please contact

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