Howard University dedicated yesterday a new $7.1 million home for its eight-year-old Cancer Center, whose mission is to study and try to reduce the strikingly disproportionate cancer death rate among blacks in the District.
Dr. Donald Fredrickson, director of the National Institutes of Health and keynote speaker at the late morning ceremony, said the "research possibilities" at the Howard Cancer Center are "unique and extraordinarily important."
Pointing out that black males have the highest cancer death rate of any proportion of the American population, Fredrickson said the Howard Program is particularly important, "targeted as it should be at the non-white population and particularly nonwhite men."
At a press conference Wednesday, Dr. Kenneth Olden, the Howard Cancer Center's deputy director for research, said the center "has a unique opportunity to do research on the kinds of cancer prevalent among blacks," as Washington has both a predominantly black population and the highest cancer death rate for non-whites in any of the nation's top 10 metropolitan areas.
According to a study completed in early 1979, black men in the District have a 60 percent higher chance of dying from cancer than do white men.
The Cancer Center at Howard has four major components: basic scientific research into the causes and biology of cancer; development of anti-cancer treatments; care and, it is hoped, cure of cancer patients, and community education.
As part of the community education component, the center has developed, and the District public school system has instituted, the nation's first required cancer education program for children in all grades.
According to Dr. Jack White, director of the Howard Cancer Center, one of the center's primary missions is to provide training in cancer treatment and research for minority students.
As Fredrickson said at the dedication of the six-story, brick and glass building, "a school like Howard, where there is a high concentration of minority students who will become health practitioners, has an enormous opportunity."
Speaking at the Wednesday press conference, White said minority students have only limited chances to obtain training in cancer research and training at other institutions, and thus the Howard Center can play a major role in increasing the number of minority researchers, physicians and technicians involved in the field.
The career of White, who had been on the Howard faculty for 29 years, is an example of how limited recent opportunities have been for blacks in the cancer field.
As recently as 1950, White was the first black surgeon to train at New York's prestigious Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and in the years following his return to Howard in 1951, White launched Howard's clinical cancer program.
The new center, at Fifth and W streets NW behind the new Howard University, contains animal laboratories, laboratories for research with DNA, offices, patient waiting and examining rooms, teaching areas and other offices and laboratories.