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UVA Cancer Center partners to provide colorectal cancer screening in New River Valley

Rebecca Barnabi
Photo Credit: RFBSIP/Adobe Stock

Community Health Center of the New River Valley is partnering with UVA Cancer Center to boost Southwest Virginia’s colorectal cancer screening rate by mailing at-home test kits to patients.

Backed by nearly $600,000 from the Jeffress Trust, the health center plans to mail 950 fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits by the end of 2024 to patients who have been identified by the health center as not up-to-date on their colorectal cancer screening. Through a robust screening navigation process established as part of the new effort, including the hiring of a cancer screening navigator, patients will receive follow-up reminders to return their FIT kits and will receive assistance in scheduling a colonoscopy if their FIT test comes back positive.

The new initiative hopes to solve the challenge of how to boost colorectal cancer screening rates, especially in rural, medically underserved areas such as Southwest Virginia where screening rates are typically lower. Colorectal cancer screening is recommended beginning at age 45 for average-risk Americans, but only 67 percent of Americans are up-to-date on their screening. At Community Health Center of the New River Valley, a federally qualified health center that cares for patients regardless of their ability to pay, 53.5 percent of patients are up-to-date on their colorectal cancer screening. The program aims to boost screening rates to the national goal of 80 percent.

“Along with boosting screening rates, we hope to increase patient follow-through for screening colonoscopies if the FIT test determines the procedure is needed. We are doing this through robust patient communication conducted by a cancer screening navigator and nurse care coordinators who are trained in strategies to educate both patients and families,” Michelle Brauns, chief executive officer of Community Health Center of the New River Valley, said. “In addition, we are exploring how we can eliminate CRC screening disparities among racial and ethnic groups in our patient population, as cancer screening rates are well documented to be lower in our rural, Appalachia region.”

The program will be evaluated continually throughout 2024 to determine what adjustments are needed to make the screening process more successful, said UVA School of Medicine researcher Dr. Jamie Zoellner, who is leading UVA’s participation in the program. The goal is not only to create a successful screening program for Community Health Center of the New River Valley, but to apply the lessons learned to improve cancer screening throughout the region.

“We intend to share the findings and lessons learned with neighboring federally qualified health centers across Southwest Virginia, so that they may replicate the workflow and cancer screening navigation processes that we have developed through this colorectal cancer screening initiative,” Zoellner said. “Equally as important, we hope the capacity we are building with Community Health Center of the New River Valley through this program will lead to focusing on a broader set of cancer control initiatives for other high-priority cancers and risk factors across Southwest Virginia.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.