Individuals affiliated with the following organizations have participated in the Network, many as active members of Workgroups, and some as participants in quarterly meetings or other Network activities.
Four workgroups supported by staff design and implement projects. They meet monthly and come together with other Network participants every quarter to share progress, expand learning, and collaborate on synergistic activities. These workgroups are Community Engagement; Education and Outreach; Policy; Science Support and Advisory.
The Community Engagement Workgroup builds community awareness about environmental risk factors of concern in the region. They partner with a variety of neighborhood-based organizations, resident leaders, and technical experts to organize and train community members to take action for environmental justice in areas carrying disproportionate cancer burdens.
The Education and Outreach Workgroup provides education on environmental risk factors for cancer and tools for action, with a particular focus on individuals impacted by cancer and their loved ones and healthcare professionals. This workgroup seeks to improve education methods and increase knowledge and motivate action among these populations using a bottom-up approach in which the priorities and needs of individuals impacted by cancer inform the information we encourage clinicians to provide to their patients.
The Policy Workgroup identifies model and proposed policy solutions that will reduce exposure to environmental carcinogens, particularly in communities disproportionately impacted, and integrate environmental risk factors into cancer prevention. The workgroup seeks to increase our region’s capacity to influence policy by uplifting existing initiatives of organizations participating in the Network.
The Science Support and Advisory Workgroup supports the Network in interpreting and translating science accurately and effectively. It also seeks to advance research that has the potential to fill crucial gaps in knowledge needed to reduce environmental carcinogens, promote safer alternatives and catalyze systemic change towards healthy environments. This workgroup often partners with other workgroups to provide up-to-date data analyses on exposure to carcinogens as well as the burden of cancer and disparities.
In 2019, the Lowell Center convened a Symposium on Cancer and Environment at the Phipps Center that brought together 130 people from an array of sectors to share information and perspectives on the twin problems of elevated rates of cancer and high exposures to environmental chemicals in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Organizers and participants included national and regional leaders: cancer-focused researchers and organizations providing support to people with cancer; community-based organizations; public health experts; environmental scientists and advocates; funders and others. The meeting was a milestone in a process of building relationships among people who are not frequently at the same table, and it spurred interest by many participants in ongoing work together. The Cancer and Environment Network of Southwestern Pennsylvania was launched soon after the symposium to provide a structure for ongoing collaboration.
Today, the Network is thriving, with staff and volunteer leaders collaborating on a series of projects for the purpose of elevating attention to environmental contributors to cancer and advancing solutions. Inspiration for the place-based Network came from the national Cancer Free Economy Network; the two efforts benefit from one another with exchange of expertise, resources and learnings.