The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has received five years of funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to partner with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to increase colorectal cancer screenings, particularly among underserved communities in North Carolina.
“Colorectal cancer is the fourth leading cause of all cancer deaths in North Carolina, but it’s treatable and beatable if caught in early stages,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, Section Chief for Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention in the Division of Public Health. “Our aim is to remove barriers to screening and treatment for people in the higher-risk age range (50 to 75), including those who may not have access to health insurance, and move North Carolina further toward the national testing goal of screening 80 percent in every community.”
This new funding, which includes nearly $700,000 in the first year, will assist select FQHCs in improving their colorectal cancer screening systems and educating their communities on the importance of routine screenings for early detection. The funding will also be used to provide appropriate follow-up care for uninsured or underinsured patients who have abnormal test results.
FQHCs are community-based health care centers that provide primary care services in underserved areas, including for individuals without health insurance. FQHCs that have colorectal cancer screening rates of less than 60 percent and have at least two clinic sites will be considered for participation in the program.
Colorectal cancer particularly impacts historically marginalized populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, with African Americans having the highest incidence and mortality rates. In 2019, North Carolina FQHCs served more than 610,000 patients, 33 percent of whom were African American and 30 precent who reported Hispanic/LatinX ethnicity. However, only 46 percent of patients age 50-75 were screened for colorectal cancer.
With the coronavirus pandemic causing people to postpone some routine medical procedures, national colorectal cancer screening rates have declined 86 percent, according to an analysis by Epic Health Research Network. As the COVID-19 virus also disproportionately impacts historically marginalized populations in North Carolina, it is more important than ever to increase preventative screenings among the state’s vulnerable communities.
The funding will be administred by the North Carolina Partnerships to Increase Colorectal Cancer Screening (NC PICCS), which includes the NCDHHS Cancer Prevention and Control Branch, the American Cancer Society, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Regular cancer screenings are critical and can be done as safely as possible following CDC and NCDHHS guidelines for health care facilities. To learn more about NCDHHS initiatives to ease the burden of cancer in North Carolina, visit publichealth.nc.gov/chronicdiseaseandinjury/cancerpreventionandcontrol.