Despite pandemic, Georgia’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program making significant strides
3/23/2021, Georgia CORE
Today, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second mostly deadly cancer in the United States. Risk factors include age, race (African-American), personal history of polyps, family history of colorectal cancer (CRC) or inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, low fiber/ high fat diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and alcohol intake. Thanks to funding awarded by the Centers for Disease Control for five-years beginning July 2020, Georgia CORE and Augusta University are partners in the Georgia Colorectal Cancer Control Program (GCRCCP), which is increasing CRC screenings in southeast and southwest Georgia. The grant is part of CDC's national ScreenOutCancer initiative.
When the grant was awarded in the Spring of 2020, no one knew a world-wide pandemic would have such an impact and that the learning curve during the first nine months would be so steep. However, resources from the CDC and input from the Partnership Council allowed for a successful launch of the program and the commitment and passion for addressing the needs of the target population, in a geographical area that has a high level of need and a colorectal cancer screening rate lower than most of the rest of the state, was not diminished in spite of the challenges presented by COVID–19. The council, which includes leaders from Augusta University’s Georgia Cancer Center, Georgia CORE, Horizons Community Solutions of Albany, and Albany Area Primary Health Care have met all CDC reporting requirements thus far, which have consisted mainly of detailed plans for implementation, evaluation, and measurement.
The twelve-county focus area had 587 colon cancer deaths among their population from 2010 to 2019. The grant supports enhanced colorectal screening in these regions through two Federally Qualified Health Centers, which are engaging 15 health clinics. Albany Area Primary Health Care, an FQHC in southwest Georgia, and East Georgia Healthcare Center, an FQHC in southeast Georgia, are currently conducting clinic readiness assessments and writing implementation plans. Colorectal cancer screening rates in these clinics range from 18% to 72% with an average of 34% of patients age 50-75 participating in screening. The goal is to exceed a screening rate of 60% for each clinic and only one of the fifteen clinics exceeded that target in the second quarter of the grant.
Supporting the belief that evidence based interventions such as provider reminders increase screening rates, AAPHC South Albany experienced a strong screening rate increase after SW Medical Director, Dr. Jim Hotz, discussed the study interventions during medical staff meetings. Four evidenced based interventions are planned for implementation across all of the clinics. They are client reminders, provider reminders, provider assessment/feedback and reducing structural barriers.
Year 2 will consist of preparing the 15 clinics and then implementing the study protocols to identify participants and begin to report findings.
“If these interventions increase screening rates in these regions of our state, then we look forward to introducing the results to all Georgia FQHCs and make a difference throughout the state,” said Sheryl G. A. Gabram MD MBA , GCRCCP Principal Investigator and Chief Scientific Officer for Georgia CORE. “We can save more lives from colorectal cancer if we commit to our work plan and measure our progress.”