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Upstate University Hospital tackles colon cancer disparities

Reducing health disparities requires an understanding of the affected communities and the various barriers they face in order to have effective intervention strategies. In 2016, Upstate University Hospital established the We Matter program, a peer-to-peer community outreach program to reduce colon cancer disparities among the community’s most vulnerable population.

Trained by Upstate University Hospital Cancer Center health professionals, peer advocates called “Resident Health Advocates” provide culturally appropriate colon health education and navigation to screening colonoscopies and at-home stool kits to residents of public housing. The goal is to eliminate barriers, change behavior and make colon cancer screening a priority. The program addresses the New York state Prevention Agenda priority area, “Chronic Disease Preventive Care and Management,” specifically goal 4.1: focus on increasing cancer screening rates.

We Matter found that combining educational sessions with its already established She Matters program (for breast cancer) enhanced participation and attendance. The program has strengthened itself by partnering with community stakeholders, including the Jim and Julie Boeheim Foundation, Syracuse Housing Authority, Onondaga County Cancer Services Program and American Cancer Society.

From June 2016 to May 2019, 136 fecal immunochemical test stool kits were distributed and 39 were returned (29% return rate). Eight colonoscopies were completed in this period and three polyps were removed. In May 2019, the hospital switched the stool kit from FIT (three-day sample) to InSure (one-day sample); 56 kits have been distributed since then and 32 returned (57% return rate) — a nearly double increase.

Through this outreach, 185 people have signed up to be We Matter participants. The program currently serves eight Syracuse public housing developments, benefiting some 1,400 people 50 to 70 years of age who live in Syracuse’s poorest inner-city neighborhoods.

For more information, contact Linda Veit, interim chief of staff and associate vice president, community relations, at veitl@upstate.edu or (315) 464-7855 or Rachel Ryan, outreach coordinator, at ryanra@upstate.edu.