Doctors recommend adults age 50 and older get tested for colon cancer, but many El Pasoans are not following these guidelines.
In fact, El Paso has one of the lowest colon cancer screening rates in Texas. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, only 54 percent of qualifying residents get tested for the cancer, compared to 66 percent of the rest of the U.S.
“Colorectal cancer screening is a lifesaving test, but the problem is that patient participation is low,” said Navkiran Shokar, M.D., MPH, a professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). “This is particularly true among Hispanics, the poor and the uninsured — which are common characteristics within our region.”
The city’s low rates have launched Dr. Shokar on a mission: increase the number of El Pasoans who are getting screened for colon cancer.
Her plan is to create a citywide colorectal cancer screening coalition — an alliance among El Paso’s medical, academic, governmental and public health community — to dedicate itself to recognizing and solving the problem.
The coalition came to fruition last month when Dr. Shokar and her team in the Department of Family and Community Medicine held a kickoff meeting. Individuals from local health care providers and other health-focused organizations were invited to discuss El Paso’s colorectal cancer burden.
Attendees also learned about 80 by 2018, a U.S. initiative that aims to have 80 percent of adults age 50 and older screened for colon cancer by 2018.
Dr. Shokar doesn’t want El Paso to stand idly by, but instead, work toward this goal. “This is a call to action,” she told attendees at the meeting. “It’s going to require more work on all of our ends, but we need to do more. We can do more.”
Maria Chaparro, who helped organize the event, wasn’t sure how people would respond to the idea. Chaparro is a TTUHSC El Paso research associate and coordinator of the Against Colorectal Cancer in Our Neighborhoods (ACCION) program.
“To tell you the truth, we didn’t know what to expect from this meeting. We didn’t know who, if anyone, would commit [to the challenge,]” she said.
Fortunately, the response was positive.
Nearly twenty public health organizations from across the community joined the colorectal cancer screening coalition. The team will begin meeting regularly this March and members will soon draft a specific plan on how to boost El Paso’s screening rates.
If you would like to join the effort, contact Maria Chaparro at 915-215-5582.
Dr. Shokar and Chaparro would like to thank the following organizations for attending the kickoff meeting and joining the coalition:
Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe
Centro San Vicente
El Paso’s Veteran’s Affairs
Hospitals of Providence
Las Palmas and Del Sol Medical Center
New Mexico State University
Paso Del Norte Health Foundation
University Medical Center
UT School of Public Health
William Beaumont Army Medical Center