The Medical University of South Carolina's Hollings Cancer Center will receive a $3.4 million federal grant over the next five years to improve cancer care for minority patients.

At least a third of all patients treated at the Hollings Cancer Center are minorities, said Chanita Hughes-Halbert, principal investigator for the grant at MUSC and a presidential appointee to the National Cancer Institute's Board of Scientific Advisors.

She said the Hollings Cancer Center was one of only 12 minority, underserved community sites across the country that the National Cancer Institute designated to receive the grant money.

"It was a highly competitive process," Hughes-Halbert said.

Cancer mortality disproportionately affects some minority groups, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. For example, 208 African-Americans per 100,000 died from cancer in 2009, compared with 172 per 100,000 white patients.

"Much of the difference in survival is believed to be due to barriers that limit access to timely, high-quality medical care. Furthermore, African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage of disease, when treatment choices are more limited and less effective," a recent American Cancer Society report explained.

The grant money will improve access to the latest treatments and clinical trials for patients across South Carolina and will allow MUSC to "provide expertise to develop new strategies for how cancer care is delivered to everyone represented in our communities," she said.

Dr. Andrew Kraft, director of the Hollings Cancer Center, also participated in the team of researchers who submitted the grant application in January.

He has since accepted a job as director of the University of Arizona Cancer Center. Kraft's replacement has not been named.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.