Skip to main content

Lifesaving Cancer Screenings, Near and Far

Health disparities exist when people experience worse health outcomes due to economic, social, cultural, environmental, or geographic reasons. In Utah, access to care is one of the most glaring disparities. More than 96% of the state’s land is considered rural, with fewer than 100 people per square mile.

Yet more than 330,000 Utahns live in these areas. Although rural residents are less likely to get cancer, they are 10% more likely to die from it compared to residents of urban areas.

We know that the health needs of Utah’s communities don’t stop at the walls of University of Utah Health. That’s why Huntsman Cancer Institute’s community outreach and engagement teams are building ongoing partnerships to improve community health and reduce cancer-related disparities throughout Utah and across the Mountain West.

At U of U Health’s Stansbury Health Center in Tooele County, breast and colorectal cancer screenings make it easy for patients to receive care where they live. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Cancer Screening and Education Bus began visiting Stansbury Health Center in fall 2019.

Ali Salari, DO, from Stansbury Health Center with Nathaniel Ferre from Huntsman Cancer Institute
“Our partnership with Huntsman Cancer Institute and community health educators like Nathaniel Ferre (right) has allowed us to improve care delivery and increase access to screening and early detection of Tooele County by providing convenient cancer screenings without the need for residents to leave the county,” says Ali Salari, DO, (left) medical director of the University of Utah Health Stansbury Health Center.

Equipped with the latest 3D mammography technology, the bus provides breast cancer screening services to rural patients who would otherwise have to travel 40 miles to Salt Lake City to be screened. Since 2019, 95 cases of breast cancer have been detected through mammogram screenings performed on the bus at Stansbury Health Center. Those 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 and increase access to screening and early detection of cancer in Tooele County by providing convenient breast and colorectal cancer screening without the need for residents to leave the county.”

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 offers Stansbury Health Center patients who are due for colorectal cancer screening the option to complete an online education module and then receive a colorectal cancer screening test via mail. The test is done at home and returned in a prepaid mailing envelope for processing. If the patient receives a positive result, program administrators work with their health care provider to schedule a colonoscopy at Huntsman Cancer Institute or another University of Utah Health community clinic.

“Education is a vital tool to address health disparities,” says Nathaniel Ferre, who developed the educational module. “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.” He emphasizes the importance of ensuring that educational tools are easy to understand, available in many languages, and delivered in accessible formats. “When people learn why they are being asked to do something, they are more likely to see the value and take action,” Ferre says.

More than half of the patients who complete the module have never been screened for colorectal cancer. “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,” Ferre says. With a screening adherence rate of 76%, far above the national average, Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Screen to Save initiative is having a major impact.

These two programs exemplify how Huntsman Cancer Institute strives to eliminate barriers to access. By bringing mammography services closer to people’s homes and providing at-home screening options for colorectal cancer, we can educate about the importance of cancer screenings and early detection, as well as improve the health and well-being of residents in big cities and small towns.