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Health disparities are when people have worse health outcomes because of economic, social, cultural, environmental, or geographic reasons. Access to care is just one example of a health disparity many people face.
In Utah, more than 96% of the land is considered rural, with fewer than 100 people per square mile. More than 330,000 Utahns live in these areas. Rural residents are less likely to get cancer, but they are 10% more likely to die from it compared to residents of urban areas.
We know the health needs of our community don’t stop at the walls of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s main campus. Our Community Outreach and Engagement teams are dedicated to building ongoing partnerships to improve community health and reduce cancer health disparities throughout Utah and across the Mountain West.
One such partner is University of Utah Health’s Stansbury Health Center in Tooele County, 40 miles west of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s main campus. This clinic provides a number of critical patient care services to their community. And through a partnership with Huntsman Cancer Institute, breast and colorectal cancer screenings are available to patients.
Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Cancer Screening and Education Bus began visiting the Stansbury Health Center in fall 2019. Equipped with the latest 3D mammography technology, the bus provides breast cancer screening services to rural patients who would otherwise have to travel to the Wasatch Front to be screened.
At the Stansbury Health Center, 95 cases of breast cancer have been detected through mammograms performed on the bus. Patients were referred to Huntsman Cancer Institute for follow-up care.
“We have been providing care in this community for more than 25 years,” says Ali Salari, DO, medical director of the Stansbury Health Center. “Our partnership with Huntsman Cancer Institute has allowed us to improve our care delivery in Tooele County by providing convenient breast and colorectal cancer screening without the need for residents to leave the county.” Salari emphasizes that the partnership has led to “increased access to screening and early detection of cancer.”
Education is a vital tool to address health disparities. Learning how to prevent and screen for cancer allows patients to take charge of their own health and encourage loved ones to do the same.
To address the need for colorectal cancer screening, Huntsman Cancer Institute implemented the Screen to Save initiative, which focuses on improving education, early screening rates, and health outcomes for people aged 45–75 in rural areas. The program provides patients who need colorectal cancer screening the option to take an online education module and then receive an at-home colorectal cancer screening test via mail.
“Education is a vital tool to address health disparities,” says Nathaniel Ferre, a community health educator. “Learning how to prevent and screen for cancer allows patients to take charge of their own health and encourage loved ones to do the same. Ensuring the education tools we create are easy to understand, available in many languages, and delivered in accessible formats, helps support a healthier and more informed community.”
Ferre developed an education module that is given to Stansbury Health Center patients who are due for colorectal cancer screening. After patients complete the education module, they receive a free take-home colorectal cancer screening test. The test is done at home and returned in a prepaid mailing envelope for processing. If the patient receives a positive result, Ferre works with the health care provider to schedule a colonoscopy at Huntsman Cancer Institute or another University of Utah Health community clinic.
“More than half of the patients who complete the module have never been screened for colorectal cancer,” says Ferre. “In the first year of the program, more than 150 patients completed the education module and 137 were eligible for at-home colorectal cancer screening.” With a screening adherence rate of 76%, far above the national average, Screen to Save is demonstrating a major impact. Ferre adds, “When people learn why [through the education module] they are being asked to do something, they are more likely to see the value and take action.”
Screen to Save
screening adherence rate
These two programs exemplify how Huntsman Cancer Institute strives to address health access barriers. By bringing mammography services closer to people’s homes and providing at home screening options for colorectal cancer, we are educating about the importance of cancer screenings and early detection, as well as improving the health and well-being of all residents—from big city to small town.