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John T. Vucurevich Cancer Care Institute recognized

Apr 02, 2019 08:00AM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

The Regional Health John T. Vucurevich Cancer Care Institute was named by the Journal of Oncology Practice as one of eight U.S. cancer centers to successfully increase racial and ethnic minority participation in cancer trials. Radiation Oncologist Daniel Petereit, M.D., and his Walking Forward program, which seeks to reduce cancer rates among American Indians, was cited as an example of how to build trust with minority communities.

Racial and ethnic minority groups are underrepresented in clinical trials despite high rates of certain cancers, the report noted. Because of that, these groups often miss out on promising new medicines, and researchers miss the opportunity to fully measure the safety and efficacy of their innovative treatments.

“Delivering personalized medicines that account for biologic factors, such as genetics, gender, race and ethnicity, is fundamental to the goal of precision medicine; however, without including adequate representative patient populations, this goal is not achievable,” the authors noted.

 Dr. Petereit created Walking Forward in 2002 to address the high rate of cancer mortality among Northern Plains American Indians. The program identified three possible reasons for the higher death rate: fewer early cancer screenings, lack of access to treatment and waiting to see a doctor until their cancer is in its later stages.

“Everything from cultural differences to transportation problems can prevent patients from receiving timely and effective cancer care,” Dr. Petereit said. “By overcoming these barriers, we have seen improved cancer survival rates, which in turn builds trust and leads to more success in treating cancer.”

The program, funded by the National Institutes of Health and managed by Avera Health in partnership with Regional Health, seeks to improve survival rates through cancer education, culturally tailored patient navigation and increased access to clinical trials.

“We have enrolled over 4,500 American Indians in clinical trials – the highest number in the nation – including many surveys that document barriers to earlier cancer screening and detection, as well as innovative clinical trials utilizing brachytherapy and Tomotherapy to improve treatment outcomes,” Dr. Petereit said. “Our current  project seeks to increase lung cancer screening rates for the entire population of western South Dakota utilizing low dose CT scans. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death rates. In addition, there are 14,000 patients at risk for lung cancer in our part of the state.”

Dr. Petereit is the incoming president of the American Brachytherapy Society. “One of the reasons I agreed to take this position was to provide state-of-the art brachytherapy services to patients in our area, and to implement strategies to improve radiation oncology resident education for programs in the United States by partnering with colleagues of mine at major academic institutions. We will be in a position to change oncology practice patterns in the United States that will ultimately benefit cancer patients everywhere,” he said.


Radiation oncologists at CCI, including Drs. Eric Eastmo, Dan Petereit and Michael Swartz continue to offer state-of the-art radiation oncology services.