Navkiran Shokar, M.A., M.P.H, M.D., has received nearly $1.5 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to reduce the burden of cervical cancer in West Texas.
“Hispanic women in our region have a 30 percent higher risk of dying from cervical cancer,” says Dr. Shokar, a physician and professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). “They also have a higher incidence of cervical cancer and are typically diagnosed at later stages.”
Dr. Shokar will use the grant to expand De Casa en Casa, a program that helps uninsured or underinsured Latinas access free cervical cancer screenings, or pap smears. Since its establishment in 2013, De Casa en Casa has provided more than 1,500 pap smears to women in El Paso and Hudspeth Counties.
The new CPRIT funds will help the program expand its service area to 105 additional rural U.S.-Mexico border counties in Texas, stretching from as far away as Big Bend country to the Panhandle plains. Cervical cancer test rates in the region lag far behind the national average of 82 percent; only 63 to 71 percent of qualifying residents in these counties have been screened.
“This area we’ve targeted has a population of about 2.8 million,” says Dr. Shokar. “The region has high rates of poverty, low education, and low rates of health care coverage — making it the ideal location for health education and free diagnostic screenings to save more lives.”
Dr. Shokar and her team will begin the effort by organizing a convoy to visit a 19-county area between now and December. The TTUHSC El Paso team will offer cervical cancer prevention education, including a bilingual educational video, and free cervical cancer screenings to qualifying residents. During the visit, the team will also provide training for local nurses and community health workers to increase awareness of cervical cancer, its symptoms, and common barriers that women in these communities face to get access to cancer screening and care.
Dr. Shokar’s ultimate goal is not only to have more women screened, but also to educate Hispanics about the importance of regular pap smears for early diagnosis — when cervical cancer is most curable — thus, saving more lives.
De Casa en Casa’s reach is possible thanks to a community-wide partnership that consists of over 150 organizations, including TTUHSC El Paso, the West Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Texas Department of State Health Services, and multiple food pantries and community centers across the region.
This is Dr. Shokar’s fifth award from CPRIT as a principal investigator. Her grants have brought nearly $8 million to the El Paso community for cancer prevention and early detection services.