The University of Arizona Cancer Center: Embracing Low-Income Families

Intervention Area: Southern Arizona

The University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC) has a long-established supportive care program. Engaging in evidence-based psychosocial and supportive care has provided a number of benefits for patients and informal caregivers. The expansion of the Un Abrazo Para la Familia intervention provides additional support to underserved populations, especially monolingual Spanish-speaking individuals.

TUCSON, AZ – Despite advances, patients with cancer still face significant barriers to receiving comprehensive treatment. When it comes to mental health and depression stemming from their cancer diagnosis, lack of adequate screening or detection of symptoms means they often lack access to effective, evidence-based psychological care. Underserved cancer patients particularly (including Hispanic/Latino, low income, rural, and elderly patients) frequently report higher rates of depression and family stress, but they are among the least likely to be able to be referred to specialized services. Patients often identify specific barriers to receiving patient-centered cancer care, including language, geography (travel times to their medical provider), limited cultural competency of their providers, and cost.

The University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC) has established a number of programs that provide psychosocial support to patients and their families. As part of their ongoing efforts to provide effective patient-centered cancer care, the UACC has also been a part of an effort to expand access to the Un Abrazo Para La Familia™ [Embracing the Family] intervention to include patients treated at the Cancer Center and families located within the UACC’s catchment area.

Abrazo is a brief (three one-hour sessions), low-cost intervention presented in the language of choice (Spanish or English) of participants. It focuses on understanding cancer as a life-threatening chronic illness by providing specific information on the disease, coping with the diagnosis, and connecting participants with other supportive programs in Arizona. As project creator Catherine Marshall, PhD, University of Arizona College of Education, explains “after… [the] intervention, families are in a better position to effectively support their loved ones through cancer.”  The program significantly increases cancer knowledge among low-income co-survivors of cancer and addresses all psychosocial oncology care domains identified by the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies (formerly known as the Institute of Medicine or IOM): cancer knowledge, options for cancer treatment, emotional coping, and work and financial impacts.

The intervention was first tested in partnership with Community Health Coordinator Lorena Verdugo, El Rio Health, and with the support of Francisco Garcia, MD, MPH, former director for the UA’s Center for Excellence in Women’s Health and current Assistant County Administrator & Chief Medical Officer for Pima County, Arizona. With the backing of the Merck Foundation, Dr. Marshall and others are working with the Arizona Community Health Outreach Workers’ Network (AzCHOW) and, in particular, Floribella Redondo, AzCHOW President, to focus on the training of lay Community Health Workers (CHWs, also known as “Promotoras”), maintaining intervention fidelity, and continuing education. These key elements of the training program will help identify best practices for the Abrazo intervention, creating a comprehensive set of guidelines that can be shared with other institutions to reach vulnerable patients outside of the catchment area of the UACC.

About the University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC)

First established in 1976, the University of Arizona Cancer Center is the only cancer center in Arizona to receive the Comprehensive designation by the National Cancer Institute. The center’s vision is to be the preeminent leader in achieving freedom from cancer by extending and enhancing the lives of individuals regionally, nationally, and throughout the world. The UACC is a leader in research on women’s cancers (breast, ovarian), men’s cancers (prostate), gastrointestinal cancers (colon, pancreas and liver), lymphoma and skin cancers. Primarily located at the University of Arizona in Tucson and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, the UA Cancer Center has more than a dozen research and education offices in Phoenix and throughout the state and affiliate sites in Mexico and Colorado.

About the Alliance to Advance Patient-Centered Cancer Care

The Alliance to Advance Patient-Centered Cancer Care, a multi-site initiative funded by the Merck Foundation, works to increase timely access to patient-centered care and reduce health disparities among under-served populations in the United States. The Alliance includes the following organizations: Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady Health System, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, The University of Arizona Cancer Center, and University of Michigan School of Nursing, which serves as the National Program Office (NPO). For more information, visit the Alliance to Advance Patient-Centered Cancer Care’s website at

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