Program Sets PACE for Progress in Effort to End Colorectal Cancer Disparities

new-PACE Program  OSUCCC James

A team of Ohio State doctors put in some weekend work to provide patients with potentially life-saving screenings for colorectal cancer.

A steady stream of underinsured or uninsured patients underwent the low-to-no-cost Saturday screenings as part of the Provider and Community Engagement (PACE) program, an initiative that started in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition that is supported by The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

“I’m one of those people who doesn’t think you should stick your head in the sand,” Marianne Wilcox says. “There are so many things they can do now to save your life.”

Wilcox attended the screening event to support her husband, Andy, who underwent a colonoscopy. He decided to have the procedure after several weeks of pain led to an upper endoscopy that revealed bacteria in his stomach.

The PACE program was created by Darrell Gray II, MD, MPH, an assistant professor, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition; and the deputy director of the OSUCCC – James Center for Cancer Health Equity.

Already the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., the impact of colon cancer can be particularly devastating among underserved communities.

“We know certain populations, such as African Americans, lower-income and geographically isolated populations, have even higher death rates,” Gray says. “Poor access to screening services, limited knowledge about the importance of screening, and the lack of a referral or recommendation by a primary care provider are a few of the barriers that prevent these populations from being screened appropriately.”

For example, African-American men had a 25 percent higher incidence rate for colorectal cancer and a 50 percent higher mortality rate from 2006 to 2010 compared to Caucasians, according to the American Cancer Society. Because of this, and the fact that African-American men seem to get colorectal cancer at an earlier age, Gray and many others now advocate that regular screenings commence at 45, rather than the more standard age of 50.

To help patients follow recommended guidelines, Ohio State gastroenterologists and staff members—including those who volunteered during the PACE screening event—are working to increase access to testing and care.

“For me it’s about giving back to people who are underserved and need help,” says Darwin Conwell, MD, MS, division director, Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition. “It’s about how, when you’re in a position to give back, you do it. Everyone doing a little bit adds up to a lot.”

In addition to the actual screenings, volunteers help patients through interpretive services—Spanish, Vietnamese,Urdu and Wolof were among the languages spoken during the Saturday screening event—and transportation assistance. PACE also provides the community with educational programs and spreads awareness through social media efforts.

Gray is quick to credit the entire PACE team for making the program possible. “There are financial counselors, patient navigators, doctors, nurses, techs and other volunteers who make this happen. It’s definitely a team effort!”

As the leader of that team, Gray takes a hands-on role in PACE’s wide-ranging efforts—including the performance of colonoscopies. Early detection of polyps through screening paired with subsequent removal can save lives and provide piece of mind to patients, as well as their loved ones.

“Dr. Gray is awesome,” Marianne Wilcox says. “You can tell he really cares about his patients.”