Addressing Disparities: Colorectal Cancer Screening a Lifeline

Holland Doran

Paul Greene, Ph.D. and Ronda Henry-Tillman, M.D.

Until eight years ago, Arkansas had no screening program for colorectal cancer, the state’s third deadliest cancer. In 2006, just 52.6 percent of Arkansans were getting screened for a cancer where early detection almost guarantees survival.

But that all changed with the Arkansas Colorectal Cancer Act of 2005, a collaborative effort led by UAMS’ Ronda Henry-Tillman, M.D., professor of surgery in the College of Medicine, and Paul Greene, Ph.D., health behavior and health education professor in the UAMS College of Public Health, as well as the Arkansas Department of Health.

The Act created the Colorectal Cancer Control and Research Program, which provides education and training for primary care physicians and no-cost screening for patients who meet program guidelines and have no insurance. It also mandated coverage for colorectal cancer screening by defined health care plans.

Paul Greene, Ph.D. and Ronda Henry-Tillman, M.D.

Paul Greene, Ph.D. and Ronda Henry-Tillman, M.D., assess rural health screening needs.

And it’s working. Screening rates jumped to 60.9 percent in 2010 and are steadily trending upward.

“UAMS is on the forefront of addressing disparities in screening rates,” Henry-Tillman said. “It’s important to look at what we need to do to get a person to get screened, which is the best thing they can do to prevent this cancer. We have to make sure that they have the time to get a screening — can they get off of work or can they find a babysitter?”

About 40 percent of Arkansans live in rural areas, which typically have less access to health screenings and health education. Fifty-four of the state’s 75 counties are rural, with 42 of the 54 in the Delta region, which has a high minority population and the highest rates of colorectal cancer deaths. UAMS is focusing its research efforts there.

“We have the scientific data that shows us who needs the screenings and we have a cost-effective solution,” Henry-Tillman said. “We have to continue to support this program so more people do not die from this preventable disease.”