Tufts Medical Center Reaches Out to Chinatown

The hospital is making it a point to treat the neighborhood residents' specific medical needs.


Boston’s Chinatown. Photo via Shutterstock

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), a cancer of the upper part of the throat, is found globally in a mere one in 100,000 people. At Tufts Medical Center, it is found in more than a tenth of all cancer screenings.

The reason? Location. Tufts Medical Center is nestled in the heart of Chinatown, and many of the neighborhood’s residents are originally from southeastern China, where the rare cancer isn’t so rare, likely due to local diet and exposure to viruses. With a bizarre local epidemic on their hands, Tufts doctors made a plan to foster real, lasting bonds with the people of Chinatown and provide them with the medical care they need. A report from Tufts quotes Laurel Leslie:

“This is our community. If we’re not addressing health issues here, something’s lacking,” says Laurel Leslie, who oversees the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s current efforts to build bridges between Tufts and its Asian-American neighbors.

One prong of the plan is dedicated to addressing the unique medical needs of the community, namely NPC. Three times a year, the hospital holds free, widely-publicized NPC screenings for any resident who wants one. The hospital is also doing research about NPC. Pamela Smith, a Tufts assistant professor of medicine, has found a pharmaceutical that could interrupt the spread and growth of the cancer cells, but her goal is to look into the source of NPC and how to prevent it. The Tufts report quotes Smith about her research:

“This [her existing research] has had an effect on those outlying sites, but not at the point of the cancer’s origin,” Smith points out. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find the trigger that causes the cancer to grow and hit that?” Her goal in the lab is to get closer to the “source point” for the disease.

But NPC care isn’t the only thing Tufts is doing for its neighbors. One morning a week, the hospital’s clinic is directed specifically toward Asian patients, complete with translators and accommodations for entire-family visits, a nod both to the tight-knit culture of Asian families and the fact that many Chinatown residents have language barriers. In the end, these approaches all come together for one common goal: Adapting the care a medical institution offers for the people it is serving. The report quotes Smith:

We can offer easy access to good screening for NPC as a starter,” she asserts. “Then we need to offer our patients the highest quality treatment and be available to treat them further if their cancer comes back. I hope we’re offering them a place where they can rely on us to find and treat their disease as well as anywhere.”