Navkiran Shokar, M.D., M.P.H., M.A., has received $3.7 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to reduce the impact of colorectal cancer in West Texas.
Doctors recommend adults ages 50 and older get tested for colon cancer, but many West Texans are not following these guidelines. Only 54 percent of qualifying El Pasoans get tested for the cancer, compared to 69 percent of the rest of the U.S. Rural West Texas counties fare far worse, with screening rates falling as low as 28 percent.
“In West Texas, colorectal cancer cases and mortality rates are significant,” Dr. Shokar explained. “The lack of knowledge about the importance of colorectal cancer screening, coupled with a lack of access to screening services, has created a barrier to health care in our region.”
Dr. Shokar will use the grant to expand the reach of the Southwest Coalition for Colorectal Cancer Screening (SuCCCeS), a collaboration among public, private, non-profit, and for-profit health service providers led by Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). SuCCCeS’ goal is to increase the number of El Pasoans who are getting screened for colon cancer.
The new CPRIT funds will help SuCCCeS expand its service area to an additional 25 West Texas counties, encompassing an area with a combined population of nearly 2.9 million residents.
These counties, which stretch from Big Bend Country to the Panhandle Plains, have high rates of poverty, low educational attainment, low rates of health care coverage, are predominantly Hispanic, and are critically medically underserved. In fact, several of the target counties do not have a single physician.
Dr. Shokar and the coalition will begin the effort by integrating services into health care organizations in El Paso, as well as within clinics in the over 40,000-square-mile region. The team will offer free colorectal cancer screening services to eligible men and women; in-person and video colon cancer prevention education that is bilingual; and navigation to timely treatment for participants who have been diagnosed with cancer.
SuCCCeS will also train health care providers to promote colon cancer screening, to reduce patient barriers to screening, and to enhance potential resources for their patients, such as insurance coverage options for colonoscopies.
Dr. Shokar’s ultimate goal is not only to have more adults screened, but also to educate West Texans of all ethnic backgrounds about the importance of regular screening for early diagnosis — when colon cancer is most curable.
Over the course of the three-year grant, SuCCCeS is expected to provide 11,100 screening and diagnostic tests, 16,000 educational services, and 600 professional education services.
Dr. Shokar already has a strong history of leading successful cancer prevention programs. This is her sixth award from CPRIT as a principal investigator. Thus far, her grants have brought $15 million to the El Paso community for cancer prevention and early detection services and research.
SuCCCeS coalition members include nine hospitals, 26 clinics, and 150 community partners.