Empowering Incarcerated Individuals Through Cancer Literacy
Oluwadamilola Oladeru, MD, MA, MBA, is a radiation oncologist dedicated to reducing cancer disparities among incarcerated people. Cancer is the leading cause of illness-related deaths in United States prisons, yet little is known about this population's screening rates, treatment and outcomes. With support from ROI, Dr. Oladeru is researching to better understand disparities in cancer care in the Florida state prison system and to develop cancer education materials tailored for incarcerated individuals. Results from her study could improve patient outcomes by increasing awareness and understanding of cancer prevention and early detection among people who are incarcerated and ultimately decrease the current high incidence of late-stage diagnosis in this population.
In prior research on the Connecticut state prison system, Dr. Oladeru and her team showed that most patients diagnosed with cancer either while incarcerated or during the 12 months following their release had locally advanced or metastatic stage disease. These patients were also more likely to be younger, male and Black than those who had never been incarcerated. Additionally, a significant number of those incarcerated were diagnosed with screenable cancers, such as gastrointestinal cancers, and the lowest survival rates from breast cancer were noted among incarcerated patients.
Dr. Oladeru is now working to understand and address similar disparities in Florida, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States. In her ROI-funded research, Dr. Oladeru is:
- Documenting cancer diagnoses in Florida state prisons, including type, stage, treatment and outcomes.
- Conducting a survey and focus groups at a large female-only prison to understand incarcerated individuals' knowledge of cancer and its risk factors, screening history and adherence to preventive cancer care.
- Developing digital educational materials on cancer, screening and risk factors to improve cancer literacy among incarcerated individuals.
Following screening guidelines and detecting cancer early are critical to improving patient outcomes and overall survival. Through her research, Dr. Oladeru aims to improve cancer literacy in prisons so that incarcerated individuals can protect their health by self-advocating for recommended cancer screenings, early detection and required follow-up care. In addition, raising awareness of these topics among incarcerated individuals has the potential to help address the cancer inequities that disproportionately affect this at-risk population with complex needs.
Dr. Oladeru is an exceptional early career researcher who has authored several publications on prison health disparities in high-profile journals, including The Lancet and Health Affairs. Her impressive record and ambitious research plans made her an ideal candidate for the inaugural James D. Cox Research Award in 2020 when she was a resident in the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program. “Dr. Oladeru embodies everything that I had hoped for in the first recipient of the James D. Cox Research Award winner,” says Ritsuko Komaki-Cox, MD, FASTRO, who established the award in memory of her late husband. “The future of radiation oncology is bright because of researchers like Dr. Oladeru who are pushing the field forward by addressing disparities so that all patients have access to radiation therapy as part of high-quality comprehensive cancer care. We all need to teach the next generation not only the knowledge of cancer research and treatment but also how to treat patients and their families with our sympathy and kindness.”