The third leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States is colorectal cancer. African Americans are at higher risk for the disease, and some 2019 statistics show incidence rates were 24 percent higher among Black men and 19 percent higher in Black women. Yet with early detection and removal of polyps and cancer, cancer cases and deaths are preventable. That is why screening is so important.
The University of Chicago Medicine’s Center for Asian Health Equity has received a five-year, $4.25 million federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase colorectal cancer screenings, particularly among underserved and rural communities in Illinois.
Illinois Colorectal Cancer Alliance to Reduce Mortality and Enhance Screening (IL-CARES) builds on the CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program — Cook County Colon Cancer Alliance to Reignite and Enhance Screening program (2015-2020) — which worked with community health centers and select rural local health departments to address colorectal cancer disparities and increase screening rates up to 30 percent at partnering health systems.
“Colorectal cancer is treatable and beatable if caught in the early stages,” said Karen Kim, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, Director of the Center for Asian Health Equity, gastroenterologist and Principal Investigator for the program.
“IL-CARES will mobilize health systems and county health departments around the state to collectively engage in cancer prevention and control.”
IL-CARES is partnering with the following health systems that serve vulnerable populations and communities in urban, suburban and rural settings:
- Friend Health – urban health center
- VNA Health Care – suburban health center;
- Community Health & Emergency Services, Inc. – rural health center; and
- Southern Seven Health Department – rural local health department.
“We are eager to participate in the IL-CARES program as this will help bring effective and convenient colorectal cancer screening to our patients, especially in these challenging times,” said Kathryn Sunderbruch, MD, Medical Director at VNA Health Care.
Evidence demonstrates that colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Colorectal cancer screening not only detects disease early but also prevents cancer by finding and removing precancerous polyps through colonoscopy.
The U.S. has witnessed tremendous progress against colorectal cancer due to increased screening rates over the past several decades and Illinois has witnessed pockets of improvement due to targeted efforts. However, the state’s screening rate still lags behind at 66.7 percent. That places Illinois in the last quartile across the nation, according to federal data released this spring.
With the current coronavirus pandemic, colorectal cancer screening has declined 86 percent, according to an analysis by Epic Health Research Network. That makes it even more essential to bolster efforts around increasing colorectal cancer screenings, Kim said.
Colorectal cancer particularly impacts racial/ethnic minorities, with African-Americans having the highest mortality rates from colorectal cancer. Hispanic and Asian Americans have the lowest screening rates. Meanwhile, some rural counties in Illinois have among the highest incidence and mortality from colorectal cancer in the state, contributing to the burden of unnecessary health disparities.
“We are pleased to partner with Center for Asian Health Equity to address the colorectal cancer disparities in our communities,” said Rhonda Andrews-Ray, Public Health Administrator at Southern Seven Health Department. “Specifically, we look forward to increasing colorectal cancer screening rates, as the Southern Seven region is one of three national hotspot areas with the highest mortality from colorectal cancer. Southern Seven Health Department is excited about the possibility of saving lives from this preventable disease.”
The program will harness the strategic partnerships and utilize a multi-level implementation approach for evidence-based interventions that focuses on patient activation, provider level interventions and technology (including electronic health records) to improve screening rates.
IL-CARES will also utilize the web-based technology platform ILColonCARES.org to ensure linkage to care between community clinics and hospitals for colonoscopy completions.
In addition, a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) registry module within the platform will empower local health departments to engage in the program’s flagship Flu-FIT program to track distribution and completion of FIT kits to increase screening rates. FIT kits allow people to check for hidden blood in their stool from the privacy of their own home.
The Center for Asian Health Equity is a partnership between the University of Chicago and the Asian Health Coalition and is housed in the University of Chicago Medicine’s Department of Medicine, Gastroenterology Department.
IL-CARES is wholly funded through grant 1 NU58DP006764-01-00 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.