breast cancer education
Mira Sanchez, left, and Carla Lee attended ECU training to learn how to serve as community breast health educators, thanks to $125,000 in grants from the Susan G. Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast Affiliate. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Grant helps laypeople, ECU students teach women about breast health

July 27, 2015

By Kathy Muse
For ECU News Services

Azucena Warren beat breast cancer in 1998, following treatment at the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center in Greenville.

Now she is applying her efforts to help other women tackle the disease. “I share my life experiences and that’s a unique bond,” said Warren, a native of Venezuela.

“People are receptive to the information we are sharing,” she added. “We give them hope.”

Warren is one of eight women trained at East Carolina University to serve as community breast health educators, thanks to grants totaling $125,000 from the Susan G. Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast Affiliate. Educators include ECU students and local residents.
Azucena Warren plans to apply her personal experience overcoming breast cancer toward efforts to teach others about breast health.

The educators have received 12 hours of training from ECU professors Dr. Essie Torres and Dr. Alice Richman, who are leading the breast health education grant. Torres and Richman are in the Department of Health Education and Promotion in the College of Health and Human Performance. 

The educators learn to conduct breast health educational sessions at clinics, churches and health fairs, with an emphasis on reaching uninsured, underinsured, Latina and African American women age 25 and older.

This targeted group has a higher mortality rate when diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the 2011 Komen NCTC Community Profile Report. Although breast cancer incidence among minority women is lower compared to white women in Pitt County, the mortality rate is twice as high for minority women. Minority women are diagnosed at later stages of the disease, the report indicates. 

Torres and Richman said their goal is to reach these women to minimize the mortality rates. “We want to reduce the barriers and health disparities that we see throughout the continuum of care,” Torres said.

Torres and Richman intend to increase awareness of breast health while improving access and use of screening services such as clinical breast exams and mammograms in Pitt and Edgecombe counties. They aim to educate 300 women and link at least 20 percent of those women to screening services during the next year. 

“We are addressing anything that is a barrier to breast cancer screening,” Richman said.

Three community breast health educators are bilingual and provide translation and interpretation services. The educators help women complete forms to receive a free mammogram or low cost clinical breast exam. If transportation assistance is needed, gas cards are provided.

ECU students receive course credit through an internship program and community members are paid a small stipend. 

To support the grant, health professionals have volunteered to provide breast exams during screening clinics once a month at two sites in Greenville. Patients also may receive lower cost treatments at Leo Jenkins Cancer Center and other facilities because of the grant.
breast cancer education
Tori Piner, left, and Shawna O'Rorke interact during breast health training.

The screening grant is co-directed by Dr. Kathryn Verbanac, professor of surgery at the Brody School of Medicine, and Dr. Ann Schreier, associate professor in the College of Nursing. Dr. Nasreen Vohra, surgical oncologist and assistant professor of surgery at ECU, directs the treatment grant and sees patients along with other providers at Leo Jenkins Cancer Center.

“Many women are uninsured and in fact are many years overdue for recommended screening,” Verbanac said. She said the women they see are on average five years overdue for screening, which is recommended annually for women 40 and older and every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s.

Paying for treatment also raises difficulties. Vohra said, through last year’s grant, more than 30 patients have been helped in covering their treatment expenses.

“Resources in this region are few and far between,” she said.  “We should try our best to obtain resources such as this grant.”

For more information, contact Torres at (252) 328-1818 or


The Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center is jointly operated by East Carolina University and Vidant Health.

Pictured below, Essie Torres, left, and Alice Richman teach trainees to present education clinics in breast health. Torres and Richman conducted 12 hours of training for the group.

breast cancer education