tisha felder

1-2 punch

Nursing professor combines treatment, prevention in breast cancer research

In the fight against breast cancer, there are two distinct lines of research: treatment and prevention. Tisha Felder, an assistant professor and researcher in the College of Nursing and Cancer Prevention and Control Program in the Arnold School of Public Health, finds herself at the crossroads of those two lines.

One line of her research focuses on helping breast cancer survivors stay healthy by continuing hormone therapy after their traditional treatment of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Another line looks at encouraging breastfeeding among new mothers to help reduce their risk of getting breast cancer.

In both lines, Felder, a native of Easley, S.C., is always looking at the racial divide, which in the U.S. means that African-American women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer but more likely to die from it.

“Dr. Felder’s blend of sociology, social work and public health training give her a unique perspective in our field of nursing science,” says Sue Heiney, the Dunn-Shealy Nursing Professor at the University of South Carolina.

Those first couple of weeks, new moms are very isolated. That’s why we are hoping this support group approach will help encourage them to keep breastfeeding.

Tisha Felder, nursing, public health

Felder is the first researcher in the College of Nursing to receive a Mentored Research Scientist Development Award from the National Cancer Institute. She is developing an intervention program in which nurses play a key role in educating and supporting women in their hormonal therapy.

“The implications from Dr. Felder’s research has the potential to impact both the science and practice of nursing,” Heiney says.

Felder says statistics show that adherence to hormonal therapy greatly improves the survival for breast cancer survivors, but those numbers also show that women of color have a lower adherence to the therapy.

“I am very excited about being able to make an impact there,” says Felder, adding that her work in the area of health disparities began after she watched a friend’s mother die of breast cancer. “I felt a calling to do something about these disparities.”

She also feels compelled to work on the prevention end, which includes trying to increase the number of African-American women who breastfeed their children, something she had to work on as a young mother herself.

“Doing this research, I realize there was so much information that even I didn’t know as a new mother,” Felder says. “New mothers might start out breastfeeding, but they don’t always continue. The benefit really comes in after about six months.”

Felder is working on a study to provide new mothers with a five-week intervention that includes use of mobile technology and social support to educate and encourage them to start and continue breastfeeding for the first six months.

“The participants can talk to each other and learn from each other to increase their knowledge and confidence about breastfeeding,” she says.

But that intervention has to start before the baby comes.

“Moms in our previous study shared that they didn’t really hear much about breastfeeding from their doctor during pregnancy,” she says. “But you cannot wait until your child is born to decide to breastfeed.”

Many issues that can affect new moms, particularly African-American women, are the economic reality of having to work and frequently being the single head of the household. Felder says breastfeeding likelihood also decreases with subsequent children, while the cancer prevention benefits remain.

“Those first couple of weeks, new moms are very isolated,” Felder says. “That’s why we are hoping this support group approach will help encourage them to keep breastfeeding.”

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