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CPRIT Funding to Support New Cancer Prevention Efforts Benefiting Central Texans With Low Income

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Breast cancer imaging machine and female doctor.

AUSTIN, Texas – Individuals with low income living in Central Texas will soon benefit from two new evidence-based cancer prevention initiatives thanks to grants made by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to researchers at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. The projects are focused on breast cancer screening services for uninsured and underinsured women in Central Texas, and screening and treatment for unhealthy alcohol use to help reduce cancer risks among adults with low income in Travis County.

“These evidence-based awards are part of a strong cancer prevention and control program taking shape at Dell Med, and what’s also exciting is that we’re working alongside community partners equally committed to tackling cancer,” said Michael Pignone, M.D., chair of the Department of Internal Medicine and director of the Program on Cancer Prevention and Control at Dell Med’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes.

A Community Effort to Combat Breast Cancer 

Breast health prevention is one of the key areas of need in Central Texas that community partners and Dell Med are working to address. In the U.S., only about 21% of uninsured women between ages 40 to 64 have had a mammogram in the last year reported by the American Cancer Society.

“Research shows that women who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage, have more complications related to it that reduce their quality of life, and are more likely to die as a result,” said Elizabeth Jacobs, M.D., chief of primary care and value-based health in Dell Med’s Department of Population Health.

To address this need, CPRIT has awarded a two-year, $995,999 grant to Dell Med to support the development of a mobile mammography program in partnership with Lone Star Circle of Care that will provide mammography in Central Texas. Funds to launch the mobile unit have been raised by the Central Texas Addressing Cancer Together (CTX-ACT) coalition, a collaborative effort of more than 25 Central Texas community organizations.

In addition to providing mammograms, the program will provide diagnostic mammography and biopsies for uninsured and underinsured women living in Bastrop, Caldwell and Travis counties. These communities are experiencing the highest need for breast health screening in Central Texas, according to Jacobs. The project’s goal is to serve more than 4,300 women and to double current breast health screening rates.

“In the state that has the highest rate of uninsured people in our nation, this kind of program is critical to advancing women’s health,” Jacobs said.

Expected to begin providing mobile services this fall, the mobile breast health program is the result of a collaborative effort with additional support from Lone Star Circle of Care, Ascension Seton, the Shivers Cancer Foundation, St. David’s Foundation and several other entities.

Alcohol Use: A Less-Known but Common Cancer Risk Factor

The second CPRIT grant addresses a somewhat less understood but pervasive cancer risk factor through a $999,992 award for screening and treatment services to reduce unhealthy alcohol use.

“Alcohol misuse is one of the top five risk factors for cancer,” said Pignone, who will lead the three-year research initiative. “Most people understand the link between alcohol and things like liver disease, accidents and suicide. But cancer is also a pretty important downstream consequence of alcohol misuse,” he said.

“If we can identify people who are misusing alcohol and then intervene to reduce this misuse, we could cut the future incidence of several forms of cancers.”

This preventive initiative will screen low-income adult patients of CommUnityCare and Lone Star Circle of Care for risky drinking – meaning their alcohol consumption is not enough to qualify as an alcohol use disorder, but is still enough to affect cancer risks.

For the purposes of this initiative, risky drinking is defined as having more than two alcoholic beverages daily for men and more than one drink daily for women. Patients meeting this threshold will receive a brief intervention. Patients identified with more serious alcohol use disorders will be referred for formal substance abuse treatment.

These latest awards are part of a continuing focus of Dell Med and local partners to fight cancer with support from CPRIT. In 2019, Pignone and his team received CPRIT funding to encourage smoking cessation and lung cancer screening in vulnerable adult patients at CommUnityCare. A similar CPRIT grant in 2017 allowed Dell Med to develop a program that increased colorectal cancer screenings among CommUnityCare patients from 18% to 41%.

“We hope to do a lot more work and recruit other innovative investigators to develop new and effective ways to reduce the burden of cancer – not just for Central Texans, but for the world,” Pignone said.

These two grants Austin are among 55 new CPRIT awards, including 10 cancer prevention awards. To date, CPRIT has awarded $2.49 billion in grants to Texas research institutions and organizations through its funding programs.