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Stephen Kiyoi Presents TOXNET at the 3rd Biannual National Latino Cancer Summit

I just returned from a great trip to the 3rd Biannual National Latino Cancer Summit, held July 23-25, 2012, at the Mission Bay Campus of the University of California, San Francisco, where I presented an overview of NLM’s TOXNET system to researchers and community activists working to eliminate cancer in the Latino community. The summit is organized by Latinas Contra Cancer, a nonprofit organization established in 2003, which is dedicated to assisting Latino cancer patients and advocating on their behalf. In addition to organizing the Biannual summit, Latinas Contra Cancer mobilizes promotoras community health workers to provide linguistically appropriate patient navigator services in cancer centers, support groups, and educational workshops for cancer patients and their families. The organization also advocates for increased cancer research funding and community engagement, and provides access to bras, wigs, and prostheses for cancer patients and survivors. The summit is held biannually in San Francisco, with an estimated attendance of 200.

I learned a lot from the fascinating speakers at the summit. Dr. Alejandro Mohar Betancourt, General Director of the National Cancer Institute of Mexico, gave the opening keynote address on cancer policy, treatment, education, and research in Mexico. Dr. Betancourt highlighted the fact that more than 50% of new cancer cases each year come from developing countries, and that this proportion is likely to increase in the coming years. Despite this, developing countries, such as Mexico, lack sufficient infrastructure and funding to meet this need. The National Cancer Institute of Mexico treats more than 1 million cancer patients annually, which is only a small fraction of the patients in need. And approximately 16% of cancer cases in Mexico are directly attributable to infectious diseases, which are common, due to lack of access to antibiotic medications in poor areas.

After setting the international stage, we also heard about the work researchers and activists are conducting to improve the health and wellness of the Latino community in the United States. Highlights for me were hearing stories of the tireless work that Martha Sanchez, a community activist, has done to shut down a metal plating factory that was emitting carcinogenic chemicals next door to her childrens’ school, and repurposing nearby spaces into an affordable housing complex. Martha, who has been described as the Latino Erin Brokovich, has been featured broadly in the news, including the Los Angeles Times. Another highlight was hearing about the work that Denise Ramirez, the Community Engagement Coordinator for the University of Arizona Superfund Research Program, has done with promotoras, who worked with hundreds of local small businesses to promote more environmentally friendly, less toxic business practices. Denise’s work has also been nationally recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency, where she was recently invited to speak. She has achieved highly successful results in Arizona, and is interested in replicating her efforts in California.

It was an honor to present the National Library of Medicine’s TOXNET resource at the summit. I firmly believe that TOXNET is a great, free resource that is useful to both researchers and community activists working with Latinos against cancer. TOXMAP, a TOXNET resource, makes it easy to search for Toxic Releases by city or zip code, to find the potentially toxic chemicals in particular neighborhoods. TOXLINE and CCRIS provide additional information about these chemicals, and make it easy to find peer reviewed research and reports associated with each chemical. Haz-Map links jobs and job tasks with toxic chemicals associated with them. And LactMed provides information on the potentially harmful effects of chemicals and drugs on mothers and their nursing infants. I only had time to cover a few of the many useful databases and datasets in TOXNET, but I encourage you to visit the TOXNET system page to explore all it has to offer! And I would be interested to know if any of you have worked with Latino communities in the fight against cancer.

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