MD Anderson Reaching Out Into The Community

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By: Rakhee Sharma, MD Anderson Staff

Tonya Edwards plants seeds and watches them grow into beautiful flowers. She's not a florist; she's a senior research nurse in the Department of General Oncology at MD Anderson, and her "growing season" is every day.

In 1995, MD Anderson started a small satellite general oncology clinic at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital. LBJ is a community hospital situated in an economically disadvantaged, underserved area of northwest Houston. Over the past 15 years, this clinic has developed into a program that provides research-driven oncology care to underserved and ethnically diverse cancer patients in the region. LBJ patients even have access to many of the clinical trials offered at MD Anderson's main campus in the Texas Medical Center.

Edwards spends three days a week at LBJ, where she sees all of her patients. As a nurse, her goal is to bring research from MD Anderson labs out into the community. She educates patients on the clinical trials available to them, enrolls them if they are eligible, and then monitors and tracks their progress. This is where Edwards tends to her proverbial garden.

Bringing MD Anderson into the community

"LBJ patients are offered the same chemotherapies and are also being offered more clinical trials to choose from," Edwards says. "Our faculty offer the latest treatments and make decisions based on what's best for the patients."

For clinical trials to ensure that the most people are benefiting from research advances, a more diverse patient population must participate.

Last year, 1,321 patients were seen in the medical oncology clinic at LBJ. Of those, 24% were enrolled in all protocols (including epidemiology and symptom research) and 2% were enrolled in therapeutic trials. Of the patients enrolled in all trials, 13% were white, 57% Hispanic, 27% black and 2% Asian or other races. These numbers are higher than the national average, and Edwards anticipates they will increase as the program grows. 

So far, MD Anderson's collaboration with LBJ has been a success in educating and enrolling more minority patients to clinical trials. But Edwards knows this is just the topsoil and there are many more buds waiting to bloom, so she keeps educating her patients.

"We thank each patient individually for participating in research clinical trials. Although the benefit may not come for that particular patient, the research will benefit someone else in the future. It's just a matter of time."

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