Improving access to treatment for neighbor island breast cancer patients

September 18, 2023

In Hawaiʻi, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and the 2nd leading cause of cancer death. University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center researcher Izumi Okado, PhD, received funding to conduct research to improve access to breast cancer treatment for rural Hawaiʻi residents.

This research builds upon a 2020 study conducted by Okado and Brenda Hernandez, PhD, UH Cancer Center researcher, which examined the time it took neighbor island patients to begin treatment after receiving their cancer diagnosis. They found that neighbor island breast cancer patients experienced substantial delays in starting their cancer treatment during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. This new study, funded by the Robert C. Perry Fund of the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, will examine the current time from cancer diagnosis to treatment initiation for neighbor island patients.

Rural Hawaiʻi residents experience disproportionate burdens of cancer partly due to the lack of access to cancer care and specialty oncology services. Nearly 43% of neighbor island cancer patients travel to Oʻahu for partial or full treatment. This creates additional barriers such as being treated in a timely manner; increased costs, including inter-island transportation; extended time away from family; and higher demand for time and energy—all of which may create unique challenges for neighbor island patients seeking necessary care.

“Delays in starting initial treatment for breast cancer are linked to worse survival outcomes,” said Okado. “It is important to understand issues underlying treatment delays for neighbor island women with breast cancer and develop strategies to address timely access to care for rural Hawaiʻi residents with breast cancer,” she added.

Okado and fellow UH Cancer Center research investigators Jeffrey Berenberg, MD, Brenda Hernandez, PhD, Lenora Loo, PhD, and Christa Braun-Inglis, DNP, APRN, hope to design multi-level interventions to improve time to treatment for breast cancer patients on the neighbor islands.

“Our team also hopes to foster inter-island collaborations with patients, providers, community partners, and UH Cancer Center researchers to improve time to treatment for breast cancer patients,” said Okado. “Encompassing all resources across Hawaiʻi are needed to achieve this goal.”

Outcomes from this study may reduce burdens related to rural cancer care delivery and address access issues and other factors contributing to cancer health disparities.