Behind the Breakthroughs
The Your Stories Podcast

Hear candid conversations between people conquering cancer — patients, their family and friends, and doctors and researchers working to help us all.

Dr. Kekoa Taparra speaking at the Evening to Conquer Cancer event at the 2024 ASCO Annual Meeting.
Behind the Breakthroughs
Turning the Tide for Pacific Islander Patients
There was his aunt with endometrial cancer; an uncle with prostate cancer; a cousin with neuroblastoma: From breast to lung and more, the list of family members that Dr. Kekoa Taparra has lost to cancer grows longer the more time passes—and they’re just a few of the many ways this disease has affected Dr. Taparra and his Native Hawaiian family. From a young age, Dr. Taparra felt the impact that healthcare disparities have on Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities—especially when it comes to cancer.

For starters, NHPI patients have some of the lowest rates of inclusion in clinical trials and oncology research. As a result, data about these patients is often scarce, leading to poorer health outcomes and fewer support resources. Additionally, many NHPI communities live in remote areas, which can often limit their access to the latest medical advancements—including for cancer diagnosis and treatment. This reality motivated Dr. Taparra to dedicate his career to advancing cancer research for NHPI patients.

In 2023, Dr. Taparra received the inaugural Dr. Judith and Alan Kaur Endowed Young Investigator Award through Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation. With this support, he launched a research project that uses machine learning to explore the various drivers of NHPI cancer disparities. This vital work also helps categorize NHPI cancer data more effectively.
Your Stories
Bringing Better Cancer Care Back Home

All too often, the health data gathered about NHPI patients is categorized too broadly, resulting in ethnic and geographic differences among these populations being overlooked. Moreover, numerous NHPI communities live in remote areas, causing many NHPI patients to face delayed screening, diagnosis, and treatment. Having experienced firsthand the impact of these disparities on his own family, Dr. Taparra dedicates his career to addressing the various challenges prevalent in NHPI cancer care.

In this episode of the Your Stories podcast, Dr. Taparra shares his memories of witnessing loved ones endure various types of cancer, and the health disparities and resulting barriers they faced. He talks with host Dr. Don Dizon about the necessity of integrating social determinants of health into cancer research for NHPI communities and his determination to help improve equitable care for every patient.

By receiving this type of award, it really expresses the interest and passion that Conquer Cancer has in supporting issues that are very important to me and my community, such as healthcare and cancer disparities among the Pacific Islander population.
Dr. Kekoa Taparra