CPRIT: Grants fund women’s cancer fight in North Texas

Medical record concept using stethoscope in front of pile of paper. Selective focus

Moncrief Cancer Institute partners with other medical facilities and cancer organizations to provide mammograms and diagnostic procedures to women in Tarrant and more than 30 surrounding counties. The Breast Screening Prevention and Navigation Program, funded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, has provided mammography services to more than 14,000 women since 2009.



University of North Texas Health Science Center’s Building Bridges program, initially funded in 2013, is being expanded to provide education, screening and prevention for breast, cervical, uterine, colorectal, gallbladder, liver and bile duct cancer.

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North Texas has one of the highest rates of cancer in the state, with diagnosis and treatment hampered by the lack of transportation, insurance and access to cancer education and services, including screenings, vaccinations and follow-up care.

Two new grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) target that issue. The two are among 14 new CPRIT grants totaling $34 million announced in February during National Cancer Prevention Month to fight cancer in Texas.

One local grant was for $1.5 million to Fort Worth’s Moncrief Cancer Institute (MCI) to fund a new cervical cancer screening and patient navigation program. The other grant was for $1.5 million to the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) to expand its Building Bridges project, targeted at cancer prevention, education and screening among refugees in North Texas.

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“Incidence rates tend to be high for all cancers in the 14,500 square miles we serve,” said Dr. Keith Argenbright, director of MCI. “We stretch far beyond Fort Worth – from the Red River down to Austin and Paris, Texas, west to Vernon.

“We are able to cover such a large geographical area because of our mobile unit and community partners throughout the area who provide services and save time and transportation costs for our patients,” Argenbright said.

Fifty-five percent of the population in that area is designated as underserved or partially underserved, because residents either have no insurance or no way to pay for deductibles and co-pays, he said.

Since 2009, the institute, which affiliated with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, has received $18.5 million in CPRIT grants to fund colorectal, breast and cervical cancer screening, genetic counseling, patient navigation and survivor services, Argenbright said.

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UNTHSC’s Building Bridges program, initially funded in 2013, is being expanded to provide education, screening and prevention for breast, cervical, uterine, colorectal, gallbladder, liver and bile duct cancer.

The initial project found that 58 percent of eligible refugee women in the area had never been screened for cervical cancer, 66 percent had never had a mammogram and 65 percent were unaware of their hepatitis B status even though most had been screened upon arrival in the United States.

A huge majority, 96 percent, had never heard of HPV vaccine to prevent the human papilloma virus, the main cause of cervical cancer, or the hepatitis B vaccine to prevent liver cancer.

“Prevention is the key in our fight against cancer. It can have the biggest impact on reducing the number of cancer deaths,” said Dr. Rebecca Garcia, chief prevention and communications officer for CPRIT.

“Our programs focus on serving people who don’t have resources or have very limited resources, the uninsured and under-insured or who just don’t qualify for other programs,” Garcia said.

Moncrief’s Breast Screening Prevention and Navigation Program has provided mammography to more than 14,000 women since 2009.

“We got our first breast cancer grant from CPRIT in 2009 and since that inception, we have had seven different grants and found 1,449 cancers – 724 breast cancers, 717 colon and [already in an eight-month pilot program] eight cervical cancers,” Argenbright said. “Fortunately, most of the cancers we find are in early stages when they are still curable.

“We have 15,000 underserved survivors in this service area. One-third of them are at risk of not following up with follow-up screening,” he said. “They sometimes think lightning can’t strike twice. … We stay on task to follow up and identify any secondary cancers any of our patients might develop.”

Survivor services also include nutrition counseling, psychological counseling and exercise.

“Having CPRIT as one of our partners is critical to being able to offer services to patients where they live,” Argenbright said. “Travel and transportation is often quite a barrier for them, so we use CPRIT funding to eliminate that barrier.”

Plans call for MCI to expand cervical cancer screenings to help make up for the potential loss of services from Planned Parenthood, which has historically been a large provider of pap smears and other cervical cancer services.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled Feb. 21 that clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood can continue to care for patients under Texas’ Medicaid program, but future funding remains uncertain.

“As Planned Parenthood has received fewer dollars from the state, we have been asked to help reach more women with that service,” Argenbright said. “We had an eight-month pilot program and have already found eight cervical cancers and we’ve only done a couple of hundred screenings.

“With our new grant, we can serve more than 2,700 women with expanded services for cervical cancer over next three years, either provide them ourselves or contract with community partners. We are very fortunate to have such great community partners,” he said.

This report includes material from the Texas Tribune.