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CDC Awards $3 Million to Increase Colorectal Cancer Screening Rates

Photo of Guilherme Del Fiol, MD, PhD
Guilherme Del Fiol, MD, PhD

This funding will provide colorectal cancer screening and follow-up services to people between 50 and 75 years of age through partnership with health systems across Utah.

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) has been awarded a five-year, $3 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to improve Utah’s colorectal cancer screening rates. The program will build on an ongoing partnership between HCI’s Center for Health Outcomes and Population Equity (HOPE), the U of U’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, and the Association for Utah Community Health (AUCH) to deliver health information technology and evidence-based interventions to residents across the state who are most in need, including those who are uninsured and those living in poverty.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. It is estimated that in 2020, 840 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in Utah. Despite strong evidence that colorectal cancer screening saves lives, only 72% of Utahns report being up to date with colorectal cancer screening. That rate is much lower for more economically disadvantaged populations who experience increased barriers to screening. Currently, only 59% of individuals living below the federal poverty level and 28% of individuals who are uninsured report being up to date with screening.

"Lower screening rates directly contribute to higher death rates from colorectal cancer," says Guilherme Del Fiol, MD, PhD, cancer researcher at HCI and vice-chair for research in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the U of U. "This funding ensures that more Utahns will have access to lifesaving colorectal cancer screening, regardless of income, insurance status, or location. We have an enormous opportunity to improve access to preventive care through statewide collaboration and the optimal use of information technology interventions with electronic health record systems."

The new project will use interventions to be implemented within electronic health records at community health centers. These include three customized interventions: provider reminders, provider assessment and feedback, and patient navigation. "Each of these interventions is evidence-based, building on years of expertise that has demonstrated real-world impact in clinical settings," says Del Fiol. "We are eager to adapt this work and screen as many individuals as possible."

Implementation will be carried out in phases, in partnership with dozens of community health centers and primary care clinics across the state, which provide comprehensive preventive care to more than 30,000 underserved patients, the majority of whom are not up to date on colorectal cancer screening.

"We are honored to once again partner with HCI in an effort to combat and reduce colorectal cancer," says Alan Pruhs, executive director of AUCH. "The project provides tremendous potential to increase colorectal cancer awareness and screenings and to reduce the disproportionate burden of cancer-related morbidity and mortality among underserved communities and vulnerable populations being served by Utah’s health centers."

HCI recommends colorectal cancer screening for all average-risk adults who are between the ages of 50 and 75 years old. Screening options include at-home stools tests, commonly known as FOBT (fecal occult blood test) and FIT (fecal immunochemical test) that are recommended annually; and tests performed in clinics, like colonoscopy, which is recommended every ten years. All patients should discuss screening options with their health care provider, taking into account individual factors such as gender, age, and family history.

HCI is one of 35 award recipients funded through the CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program, which currently funds 20 states, eight universities, two tribal organizations, and five other organizations.