Innovations Spring 2019 | Page 4

Cutting betel nut use in Guam and Saipan

UH Cancer Center researchers are conducting a randomized trial of betel nut cessation in Guam and Saipan . It is the first such trial in the world .

Thaddeus Herzog , PhD , UH Cancer Center associate professor and project lead , along with Yvette Paulino , PhD , and Adrian Franke , PhD , are researching betel nut cessation methods . “ The Betel Nut Intervention Trial ( BENIT ),” builds upon previous U54 research revealing that betel nut chewers are similar to cigarette smokers for important variables such as dependence ( i . e ., addiction ), motivation to quit , and number of previous quit attempts . The study also found that chewing betel nut is influenced by social and cultural norms .
With an estimated 600 million users globally , betel nut ranks as the fourth most frequently consumed psychoactive substance in the world , following only nicotine , alcohol , and caffeine . Betel nut has been designated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a ‘ Group 1 ’ carcinogen . Currently , very little is known about how to reduce the cancer risk associated with betel nut chewing .
16-year partnership between the UH Cancer Center and the University of Guam is focused on meeting the cancer-related challenges faced by residents of the U . S . -Affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions ( USAPIJ ).
Reflecting back 25 years , Neal Palafox , MD , U54 grant co-principal investigator , explained , “ The collective action of many Pacific partners towards cancer prevention and control placed the UH Cancer Center in a pivotal role to enhance and implement the needed research to mitigate the disparate burden of cancer in indigenous Pacific peoples .”
The USAPIJ population is a highly underserved minority that bears a significant burden of serious health conditions including cancer . Provision of basic health services , such as education , basic vaccinations , and screening in the Pacific presents significant challenges due to the diversity of the peoples and languages and the isolation of their homes on small islands and atolls separated by large expanses of ocean .
The nut is indigenous predominantly to South and South East Asia , East Africa and the Western Pacific . As people migrate to other geographical regions , they have taken their practices with them , leading to a rise in betel nut chewing across the globe .
Betel nut chewers , like smokers , generally want and intend to quit , but do not have specific plans of how or when they will quit . According to study researchers , the most current findings suggested that betel nut chewers could benefit from cessation programs modeled after smoking cessation programs .
Principal Investigators , researchers and staf of the University of Guam Cancer
Center and the UH Cancer Center at their annual Program Steering Committee
Meeting on Guam in February .