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UNC partners with community health centers to improve colorectal cancer screening

September 29, 2011



An innovative partnership between UNC and the North Carolina Community Health Center Association is bringing a toolkit offering best practices for improving colorectal cancer screening rates to 136 clinics across the state.

The tailored toolkit, developed and distributed with support from the University Cancer Research Fund (UCRF), is tailored to the needs of clinics that serve a large proportion of uninsured or underinsured patients. It includes information on making changes to patient visits, counseling patients on screening options, using reminder systems and focusing on alternative forms of screening.
Dr. Rohweder

Dr. Rohweder

“We worked closely with a committee of community health center providers, who gave us outstanding advice on how to adapt an existing toolkit created by the American Cancer Society for their practice setting,” said Catherine Rohweder, DrPH, adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and School alumna. “As a result, the toolkit is more concise and user-friendly, and focuses on using less expensive screening methods that may be appropriate and effective.”

“The timing of this project coincides with many community health centers moving toward meaningful use and certification as a patient-centered medical home,” said Marti Wolf, RN, MPH, director of clinical programs at the N.C. Community Health Center Association. “For those clinics working toward improving rates of colorectal cancer screening, this toolkit is designed to help them do that more easily and efficiently.”

Rohweder, a research associate at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and director of NC SPEED (North Carolina Statewide Push for Excellence Engagement and Delivery), was first author on the toolkit. NC SPEED works to more quickly move research findings into practice and is funded by the UNC cancer center and the North Carolina Clinical and Translational Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, UNC’s National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science Award.

“This project fits perfectly into the University Cancer Research Fund’s strategic objective of improving cancer outcomes in North Carolina,” said Shelley Earp, MD, professor of pharmacology and medicine in the UNC medical school and director of the UNC cancer center. “Early diagnosis of colorectal cancer provides a window of opportunity for treatment and better survival rates.”

Dr. Weiner

Dr. Weiner

However, said Bryan Weiner, PhD, “it doesn’t stop there. Understanding the health systems implications of increased screening is crucial to efficient use of our health care dollars.” Weiner, professor of health policy and management at the UNC public health school, leads a project funded by the National Institutes of Health to study the implementation and costs of using the toolkit.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in North Carolina, taking the lives of almost 1,500 people in the state each year. While the disease can strike at any age, current screening guidelines recommend that those with average risk be screened beginning at age 50. The U.S. Public Health Service approves three type of screening for the average risk patient: fecal occult blood testing every year, flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years or colonoscopy every ten years.


UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or ramona_dubose@unc.edu.