FCC, NCI Working to Improve Rural Cancer Care via Broadband Access


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The Connect2Health Task Force, an initiative of the Federal Communmications Commission (FCC), has announced that the FCC and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have joined forces, signing a memorandum of understanding that will focus on how increasing broadband access and adoption in rural areas can improve the lives of patients with cancer. As an inaugural project under the memorandum of understanding, the agencies have convened a public-private collaboration that includes the University of Kentucky (UK) Markey Cancer Center to help bridge the broadband health connectivity gap in Appalachia.

Robin Vanderpool, DrPH

Robin Vanderpool, DrPH

“Kentucky leads the nation in cancer incidence, and it’s our responsibility here at UK and the Markey Cancer Center to help reduce the burdens of cancer on our citizens,” said Robin Vanderpool, DrPH, Associate Professor in the UK College of Public Health and Director of Community Outreach and Engagement at Markey. “This collaboration will allow us to connect an underserved population to resources that can help patients manage the symptoms that accompany cancer treatment and beyond, ultimately leading to an improved quality of life.”

Rural Populations and Cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans living in rural areas are still more likely to die of cancer than their counterparts in urban settings, which sets them apart from the many communities nationwide that have experienced a 20% decrease in cancer mortality over the past 2 decades. Initial analysis of broadband data and cancer data shows that these rural -“cancer hotspots” also face major gaps in broadband access and adoption, often putting promising connected care solutions far out of reach.

In Appalachia, the cancer picture is bleaker than in other rural parts of the country. Research from University of Virginia School of Medicine has shown that between 1969 and 2011, cancer incidence declined in every region of the country except rural Appalachia—and mortality rates soared. 

L.A.U.N.C.H.

The project—titled L.A.U.N.C.H. (Linking & Amplifying User-Centered Networks through Connected Health): A Demonstration of Broadband-Enabled Health for Rural Populations in Appalachia—will target areas that face the dual challenge of higher cancer mortality rates and lower levels of broadband access. The initial geographic focus is planned for rural Kentucky. Highlighting the power of public-private collaborations, current project stakeholders include cancer experts, researchers, technologists, and industry representatives from Markey, the University of California, San Diego’s Design Lab, and Amgen. 

Bradford Hesse, PhD

Bradford Hesse, PhD

“Research suggests that when patients report symptoms electronically to their care providers, they are almost twice as likely to report improvements to health-related quality of life than those in a disconnected control group,” said Bradford Hesse, PhD, Chief, Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch, National Cancer Institute. “Electronically connected patients were also less likely to be admitted to the emergency room and had greater survival rates than patients in the control group. Collaborating with the FCC is a vital step for improving cancer outcomes for all Americans, regardless of where they live.”

Additional information about the FCC-NCI memorandum and the broadband health demonstration project will be available online at https://www.fcc.gov/health/cancer. Information about “critical need” counties at the intersection of broadband and health is available at https://www.fcc.gov/health/maps/priority-and-ruralpriority-2017.


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