Grant to Moncrief Institute funds colon cancer tests for older adult

Moncrief Cancer Institute

Some 174,000 people in the Fort Worth area are eligible for free colon cancer screening tests, thanks to a $4.8 million grant awarded in May to UT Southwestern Moncrief Cancer Institute.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded the three-year grant to Moncrief to provide simple, non-invasive colon cancer screening and follow-up to underserved adults aged 50 and over who are not up-to-date on their cancer screenings.

The grant is the largest ever awarded by the CPRIT for prevention services.

The Fort Worth-based institute will provide the screenings through a network of hospitals and clinics in 20 North Texas counties, said Dr. Keith Argenbright, director of Moncrief Cancer Institute and principal investigator for the prevention program.

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The outreach targets older adults who are considered at risk for developing colon cancer and it greatly expands a pilot program launched in 2010 through a partnership with John Peter Smith Health Network, Argenbright said.

Screening of thousands of JPS patients led to this record-setting cancer grant to benefit all of North Texas, Argenbright said.

“Through the pilot program we determined screening completion was twice as high for patients offered a simple, at-home test compared to colonoscopy,” Argenbright said. “The best test is the test that gets done.”

A colonoscopy usually costs $1,000 to $1,200 compared with about $15 for the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has declared equivalent to colonoscopy when done annually, Argenbright added.

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“In the years JPS has partnered with Moncrief and UT Southwestern, we have discovered we share a commitment to putting patients first,” said Robert Earley, JPS Health Network president and CEO. “Helping our patients receive crucial cancer screenings that can lead to life-saving care is why we welcome the opportunity to participate in this research program.”

The pilot study involved almost 6,000 Tarrant County residents. It found that participation rates soared with the non-invasive FIT screenings and follow-up care.

A report on the pilot study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2013, said researchers found that “organized mailing campaigns offering two colorectal cancer tests increased screening rates as much as threefold among uninsured patients.”

Through the new grant and support from the American Cancer Society and the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, Moncrief and area partners will identify people in need of screening, mail and hand out FIT test kits, follow up with phone and in-person interviews, and guide patients to further care when indicated, including colonoscopies and polyp removal at no cost.

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Colorectal cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon) and includes cancer in the last several inches of the intestine, which is often more specifically called rectal cancer. Colorectal cancer can be prevented by finding and removing clumps of cells known as polyps in the large intestine before they ever develop into cancer.

Excluding skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women. Some 93,090 new cases of colon cancer and 39,610 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society. It is also the third leading cause of cancer deaths with 49,700 deaths expected in 2015.

The death rate has been dropping the last 20 years in part because polyps are being found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancer. Screening also allows for earlier detection, when the disease is easier to cure.

Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20 people (5 percent), with a greater risk for African-Americans, the Cancer Society says.

Risk factors also include older age (about 90 percent of people diagnosed are over 50); a personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps; a low-fiber, high-fat diet; a sedentary lifestyle; diabetes; obesity; smoking; heavy use of alcohol, and inflammatory intestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease.