Ester Villalonga Olives, PH.D.

Assistant Professor


Project Title

Adaptation of Project HEAL for Hispanic/Latino Immigrants

Named Award

Awesome Games Done Quick


Assistant Professor


University of Maryland, Baltimore, Md.

My “Why”

Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately burdened by cancer. Cancer is among the top two leading causes of death in the U.S. Latino population, accounting for about 2 out of 5 deaths. This population has lower cancer screening rates than any other race or ethnicity. This disparity is exacerbated with a lower overall health care utilization among Hispanics/Latinos. There is an urgent need to address this modifiable factor of low screening rates among this population and reduce cancer-related mortality.

My Mission

My immediate goal is to identify strategies that will help this target population increase cancer knowledge and screenings. My long-term goal is to make an impact in this community by reducing early mortality rates from cancer. I have conducted several qualitative studies and observed that a large part of this community is disconnected from the U.S. health care system; therefore, they do not use many of the resources available to them.

Research Overview

Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately burdened by cancer and experience structural racism (macro-level conditions that restrict opportunities and resources) as a barrier to cancer prevention and screening.

We want to adapt the successful Project HEAL (Health through Early Awareness and Learning) program for the immigrant Hispanic/Latino community. Project HEAL is an evidence-based intervention in African American faith-based organizations that we developed with support from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. The program trained African American leaders as lay Community Health Advisors (CHAs) to conduct group educational workshops in churches to increase knowledge and screening for breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. It was effective in increasing cancer knowledge overall, as well as colonoscopy, fecal occult blood test and digital rectal exams over 24 months in Black communities.

This project will measure the effectiveness of Project HEAL to increase cancer knowledge and screenings with Hispanic/Latino immigrants. There is a critical need to adapt and determine the effects of Project HEAL on cancer knowledge and screening outcomes among this population.

Why Funding Matters

With the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s funding, we will culturally adapt and implement Project HEAL with Hispanic/Latino immigrants with the goal to address low screening rates among this population and reduce cancer-related mortality. This project will pilot test the effectiveness among this population and will be followed by a larger trial with a larger number of participants.

My Hope

My hope is that we will observe an increase in cancer knowledge and use of cancer screenings during the pilot test. I hope our evaluation indicates that the intervention is feasible and has efficacy, utility and impact. I hope results from this project will allow for the proposal of a larger trial to achieve a higher impact in a larger population of immigrant Hispanics/Latinos.