A Passion for Women's Well-Being

MUSC Health
October 20, 2020
Jerlinda Ross

Jerlinda Ross, M.D., Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Hollings Cancer Center wants to use an old technology in new ways to better understand the conditions that drive high cancer rates among women in South Carolina. "The predominant reason I came to MUSC is that it's located in the south and has a very diverse patient population," says Ross. Raised in Warner Robins, Georgia, Ross has a passion for helping people in underserved and rural areas gain access to high quality healthcare. "At the root of why I wanted to do medicine in the first place, was that I wanted to make a difference for lower socioeconomic groups and minority women like the ones I knew growing up," says Ross.

Ross comes to MUSC from the The Penn Medicine / Virtua Cancer Program in Moorestown, New Jersey. After graduating from the Duke University School of Medicine, she did her residency at the Indiana School of Medicine in Indianapolis and completed her fellowship training in gynecologic oncology at the University of Chicago.

Another factor that drew her to MUSC was the opportunity to investigate and create solutions to social and cultural disparities in gynecologic cancer care. "There's a big commitment at MUSC to community engagement and reducing health disparities and inequities within the MUSC Cancer Control Research Program and Geographic Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program," she says.

In addition to seeing surgical and clinical patients, Ross is interested in researching health disparities in gynecologic cancer, which she believes may be rooted in exposure to particular community conditions and resources. “I use geo-spatial mapping to 'geo-code' a community’s health profile in regard to resources and access to healthcare," says Ross. "You can use the same technology that Google Earth or Google Maps uses to gather, manage, and analyze health data and understand the social determinants that affect someone’s health. Where a person is born, lives, works, shops for food, etc... all ultimately impacts their health.”

Although the field of public health has long used geo-spatial technology to track and manage disease outbreaks, using it to revolutionize cancer care is a relatively new strategy. Ross explains, "When you look at the social determinants of health, you're looking for causes to explain why certain diseases occur in some people and not in others by evaluating how the environment where someone lives influences their health. The availability of sufficient health care and access to health care resources ultimately impacts someone’s survival and quality of life throughout their battle with cancer." Ross intends to use geospatial methods to produce rich descriptions of neighborhood environments where gynecologic cancer patients live in and to explore the role that a lack of community resources may play in causing and sustaining health disparities. "This technology will likely demonstrate local resource gaps and barriers within the community that can, in part, explain health disparities among women with gynecologic cancers. Consequently, we can target these obstacles in cancer self-care to help improve outcomes," says Ross.

Because 55-percent of all cancers in women are associated with overweight and obesity, Ross also wants to raise awareness about the link between obesity and cancer. "Obesity-related cancer is a significant problem for women in the south. When you overlay minority ethnicity and lower socio-economic status, the numbers get magnified even more," says Ross. Despite this, when physicians discuss cancer prevention with their patients, obesity is often missing from the conversation. "Everyone is focused on getting a mammogram or an annual pap smear, but we aren't really addressing obesity," Ross says. "In my lectures to students, I quote Clifford Hudis (former President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology), who said back in 2014, 'Obesity is on its way to replacing tobacco as the number one modifiable cause of cancer1. Sadly, that's proving true.”

In addition to diagnosing and treating cancers, Ross wants to help her patients reduce their risk for recurrence. "I want to make sure that women who have gynecologic cancers have the resources they need to fulfill the national survivorship guidelines from the Commission on Cancer, Society of Gynecologic Oncology, and American Society of Clinical Oncology. That means not only getting your annual screenings and quitting smoking, but also healthy eating habits, regular physical activity, and weight management–all of the things we know reduce your cancer risk and play a role in improving your quality of life and your ability to undergo cancer treatment."

Ross sees geo-spatial mapping as one way to help physicians understand what might be scuttling their patients' health-improvement efforts. "It's a new way of looking at it. If we just tell them to go lose weight, but they don't have a place to walk or run where they live; or if they don't have a grocery store with healthy food; or an affordable gym; then, they don't have what they need to do what you're asking," says Ross.

MUSC Women's and Children's Health is working to make high quality healthcare more accessible statewide by opening a new clinic in Florence in November, 2020, and re-opening the Beaufort clinic after that. "It's about removing barriers to care," says Ross. "I'm looking forward to caring for women in the communities where they live."

If you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Ross or refer a patient, please call 843-792-9300.

References

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancers Associated with Overweight and Obesity Make up 40-percent of Cancers Diagnosed in the United States. October, 2017. 


About the Author

MUSC Health

Keywords: Cancer, Womens Health