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North Carolina’s community colleges are important settings for educating and training our citizens. Can they also play a role in preventing cancer? A group of UNC researchers recently looked into the question of whether community colleges could spread the latest evidence-based cancer and wellness information to the thousands of employees and students of the state’s community college system.

Laura Linnan, ScD and colleagues from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health received funding from Health-e-NC (“Health for Everyone in North Carolina”) to conduct a planning grant with the NC community college system. Health-e-NC is an initiative sponsored by UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University Cancer Research Fund (UCRF) to improve cancer outcomes of North Carolina’s citizens.

The planning grant builds on a decade-long relationship between UNC and the community college system, according to Dr. Linnan. Her team worked directly with community college presidents to assess the colleges’ needs and help plan steps to improve the health of their workforce, students and the communities that they serve.

“They are a really important part of their community, a hub of activity that goes includes students, faculty, staff and residents of the county,” said Dr. Linnan. “It was clear that here was an opportunity to do some really exciting work with promoting health and reducing cancer risks, as well as for other diseases.”

As the third largest system in the nation, North Carolina’s community college system has students and employees in nearly every county in the state. With more than 850,000 students, it is estimated that 1 in 8 North Carolinians has some connection to the state’s community colleges.

“A major part of our mission statement is about improving the quality of life in our communities. If you don’t have good health, you can’t enjoy a good quality of life,” said Dr. Scott Ralls, N.C. Community College System President. “We value our partnership with UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and look forward to continuing to incorporate healthy lifestyle options into the everyday activities on our campuses.”

Physical activity, reducing tobacco use/exposure and diet can play an important role in preventing disease, including cancer. By promoting evidence-based interventions aimed at educating and improving behaviors, Dr. Linnan and her community college partners hope to improve the quality of life and reduce the incidence of cancer among the staff, students and community residents that North Carolina community colleges serve.

“Looking at the things we know influence a person’s risk of getting cancer – not eating right, not having enough physical activity, gaining too much weight, stopping smoking – those are things that we feel, if we could change, we could prevent cancer at its root. People wouldn’t get it,” said Dr. Shelley Earp, director of UNC Lineberger.

Health-e-NC is a statewide effort to improve cancer outcomes for the diseases that hit North Carolina’s citizens the hardest. Sponsored by UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University Cancer Research fund, Health-e-NC is aimed at finding out what really works in the areas of cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship and helping to spread the latest and best evidence-based cancer information to health care providers and advocacy groups as well as cancer patients, their families and survivors.

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