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Strengthening Behavioral Science within the National Cancer Institute




Robert T. Croyle, PhD, Associate Director (Acting), Behavioral Research Program

Behavioral science provides a critical foundation for effective cancer prevention and control. Behavioral risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, and under use of effective cancer screening tests account for a large proportion of the national cancer burden. Recent progress in reducing cancer morbidity and mortality has been a direct result of a particular kind of behavior change: the steady reduction of tobacco use among adults. Expanding efforts to modify lifestyle behaviors that impact energy balance address certain risks for select cancers and other chronic diseases related to obesity.

NCI’s Behavioral Research Program (BRP) is a global leader in transdisciplinary behavioral science. This is vital to the mission of NCI and NIH’s mission to accelerate the acquisition and application of knowledge about health behavior and adaptation to disease. Many of the behaviors that increase one’s risk of cancer increase the risks of other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. It is essential that we support both basic (fundamental mechanisms) and applied (cancer control-specific) behavioral science, in the same way we support both basic and applied biomedical science. We must continue to strengthen our successful collaborations with partners, within and outside NIH, to discover, develop, and deliver strategies to enhance health-promoting behaviors by individuals and the population.

With the establishment of BRP, we undertook a major effort to evaluate, strengthen, and expand the breadth of the research program and the expertise of the scientists who lead it. We support traditional areas of research and expanded our support of interdisciplinary sciences in areas such as risk communication, decision making, sociocultural research, anthropology, consumer health informatics, physical activity and energy balance, skin-cancer prevention, policy analysis, neuroscience, psychometrics, and behavioral genetics.

Today, BRP is home to nationally and internationally recognized senior leaders in behavioral science. They are guiding a wave of scientific progress built on the foundations of transdisciplinary science networks; systems approaches that emphasize the discovery, development, and effective delivery of science; and the growth of communication sciences and real-time data technologies that make the systems function most effectively.

In 2006, the Behavioral Research Program provided leadership in several domains to accelerate progress in cancer control research. The BRP led the second NIH-wide conference on e-health research, which was cosponsored by several federal and non-governmental partners. We also held an important workshop on "The Science of Team Science," which brought together scholars who have studied or evaluated transdisciplinary teams. In an ongoing effort to encourage the rigorous use and testing of theories in cancer control research, we supported for the third year a week-long summer course for junior investigators. In addition, a workshop concerning the use of theory in cancer screening research stimulated additional dialogue and identified next steps for this effort. A close partnership with the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research facilitated a number of efforts to further expand our collaborations in measurement technology, systems analysis, training for minority investigators, and health disparities. Involvement in trans-NIH initiatives such as the Roadmap and the Genes and Environment Initiative were expanded. Finally, BRP organized and sponsored numerous pre-conferences, workshops and symposia in conjunction with the annual conferences of several professional associations.

Among the many organizations that represent important constituencies of the BRP are the American Public Health Association, the American Society of Preventive Oncology, the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, the American Psychological Association, the Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society, the Society for Medical Decision Making, the International Communication Association, the Society for Social Work and Research, and the American Association for Cancer Research. Over the past year, the BRP has made a special effort to work with these and other organizations to expand the breadth of expertise and disciplines involved in behavioral cancer control research. In the coming year, we expect to work with many of these organizations to further build shared research and training resources to strengthen links between the basic and applied social and behavioral sciences.

Last Updated: April 13, 2007

 

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