Improving outcomes for cancer survivors

Helen Parsons

Q&A with Helen Parsons, Ph.D., M.P.H., new faculty recruit

With Masonic support, Helen Parsons, public health faculty member and one of the Masonic Cancer Center’s newest recruits, is putting her expertise to work to ensure that people who have had cancer not only survive, but thrive.

Tell us about your research.

My work focuses on the benefits, risks, and results of health care interventions so that patients, providers, and policy makers can make more informed decisions. My goal is to identify the most effective strategies to improve the quality and value of health care for cancer survivors and their families.

What projects are you currently working on?

My group is working on understanding opportunities to improve the quality of life for cancer survivors and to reduce their barriers to accessing needed health care.

Recently, we conducted a study showing that continuous access to health insurance increases the likelihood that young adults are diagnosed with cancer at an earlier stage, improving their chances for better outcomes.

We also published a study in JAMA Oncology, which found that more than 25% of young adult cancer survivors had used e-cigarettes and were significantly more likely than their peers without a history of cancer to vape. With young adult cancer survivors more susceptible to late effects from cancer, such as recurrence, our goal is to use this information to create interventions that reduce high-risk behaviors and improve access to care.

What brought you to the U? What keeps you here?

The University of Minnesota is a recognized leader in cancer research and care. The opportunity to work with some of the most dedicated, compassionate health care providers was a huge draw. I feel fortunate to be able to work in collaboration with them to understand the needs of cancer survivors and to use their experiences to improve outcomes. The U is a unique place focused on creating innovative research to improve the health of our community, and I am proud to be part of this community.

What inspired you to pursue a career in cancer research and public health?

We have had tremendous success in improving outcomes for cancer survivors over the past 30 years to the point where individuals are now living years after their diagnosis. Yet, survivors can be faced with numerous physical, emotional, and financial challenges that extend well beyond cancer treatment. Like many of us, my family has been directly impacted by cancer and my hope is to use that experience and the experiences of other patients to help improve outcomes for those now facing a cancer diagnosis.

What does it mean to you to receive Masonic support?

Minnesota Masonic Charities has provided invaluable support to allow us to understand and address the most important challenges for cancer survivors. Thank you, Minnesota Masonic Charities, for your efforts to support research that improves outcomes for cancer patients and their families.

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