UNC Lineberger program focused on improving screening rates, reducing cancer deaths

The Carolina Cancer Screening Initiative, led by Daniel S. Reuland, MD, MPH, brings together UNC Lineberger’s clinicians and public health researchers with community partners to implement evidence-based cancer screening programs to reduce cancer burden among North Carolinians.

University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have launched an ambitious multi-pronged initiative to improve cancer screening rates in North Carolina, with the goal of reducing cancer-related deaths.

The Carolina Cancer Screening Initiative (CCSI), led by Daniel S. Reuland, MD, MPH, brings together UNC Lineberger’s clinicians and public health researchers with community partners to implement evidence-based cancer screening programs to reduce cancer burden among North Carolinians. A key project of the initiative focuses on reducing the colorectal cancer mortality gap in the northeastern part of the state.

Colorectal cancer screening has proven effective in reducing cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society reported that screening contributed to a substantial decline in colorectal cancer deaths in the United States between 1976 and 2014.  Although regular screening is recommended for people aged 50 and 75 years, gaps persist in screening rates by race and geographic region, and the highest rates of colorectal cancer mortality remain primarily concentrated in rural communities.

“Experts agree that the current colon cancer screening tests are not only really good at detecting cancer and preventing unnecessary deaths, but they are also cost-effective and possibly even cost-saving in the long-term,” said UNC Lineberger’s Stephanie Wheeler, PhD, an associate professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and CCSI investigator. “There is really no controversy about it. Despite it being a best-case screening scenario, too few people are being screened.”

One of the major catalysts for the UNC Lineberger effort was an American Cancer Society-led study in 2015 that identified an 11-county area of northeastern North Carolina as one of three hotspots in the country with elevated colorectal cancer death rates. An initial focus of CCSI will be to address this geographic disparity, as well as racial and ethnic disparities that negatively impact colorectal cancer screening and mortality, in North Carolina. Researchers are working to identify and launch initiatives that focus on the specific screening needs of local areas, such as these hotspots.

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