Dallas partnership nabs $6.3M grant for colon cancer screening project
UT Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Health & Hospital System have been selected by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to receive a $6.3 million grant to work on improving screening for colorectal cancer.

The five-year NCI grant will make the Parkland-UT Southwestern PROSPR (Population-based Research Optimizing Screening through Personal Regimens) Center the third site in a colorectal cancer screening network. The other colorectal cancer PROSPR sites are in California and Washington. NCI is establishing nine to 12 PROSPR sites around the country to examine and improve screening for colorectal, breast and cervical cancers.

The partnership between UT Southwestern and Parkland is unique because its screening efforts will focus on people who are either uninsured or underinsured. Researchers hope to optimize colon cancer screening among Dallas residents and develop a model for screening that can be used by public hospitals nationwide.

Also assisting in the project are the Texas Cancer Registry, the UT School of Public Health in Dallas and the Simmons Cancer Center.

“Screening for colon cancer has the potential to virtually eliminate colon cancer mortality,” James K. V. Willson, MD, director of the Simmons Cancer Center, said in a statement.

Colorectal cancer is diagnosed in more than 140,000 U.S. patients each year with nearly 50,000 deaths resulting from the disease. It is the nation’s No. 3 cancer killer, but can be cured if detected early.

According to Celette S. Skinner, PhD, associate director of the Simmons Cancer Center and professor of clinical sciences at UT Southwestern, colorectal cancer has higher rates of occurrence and mortality among low-income patients, often because they lack access to screening.

“The earlier we can detect cancers, the better we are able to treat them,” Skinner said in the statement. “Late-stage cancer is harder to treat, and there is no reason why people with less insurance should bear a disproportionate burden of cancer.”

The grant will support three existing research projects at UT Southwestern. The first involves a touch-screen computer program used to ask patients questions in English or Spanish to generate more personalized screening regimens. Another project is comparing the cost and effectiveness of various outreach strategies aimed at those in need of cancer screening. The final project will attempt to determine best practices for promoting screening in primary care clinics and across the Parkland network.