By Catie Davis and Ximena Marquez | Published on March 24, 2023
Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the U.S. The good news? It is also one of the few cancers that is preventable through screening, because doctors can identify and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Yet racial disparities still exist between Black and white Americans when it comes to colorectal cancer screening and mortality rates. Black people are more likely to develop colorectal cancer and more likely to die from it than most other racial or ethnic groups. The Prevent Cancer Foundation’s 2023 Early Detection Survey indicated Black participants had significantly lower colorectal cancer screening rates compared to white participants.
Dr. Francesca Gany and her team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center are tackling this problem head on with a 2022 research grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Dr. Gany is leading a project called “FITx3,” which works with multiple Black communities with low screening rates in Harlem, New York City, to increase colorectal cancer screening through accessible fecal immunochemical testing (FIT). A stool FIT is a quick, noninvasive at-home colorectal cancer test as opposed to a traditional colonoscopy or other colorectal cancer screening method (there are several options available for colorectal cancer screening). Screening with a FIT may be more accessible for many people, since there is no prep required beforehand, no sedation, and no time off work required.
In some areas of New York City, Black people are twice as likely to die of colorectal cancer than white people. This glaring health disparity is due to the lack of access to early colorectal cancer diagnosis, education and treatment. By getting more Black people screened with a FIT, Dr. Gany hopes to alleviate this disparity.
“FITx3” incorporates culturally responsive approaches that are developed from the Black community. Dr. Gany worked with 80 Black community members to get FITs, who then reached out to three people within their networks of family, friends and neighbors, to follow suit and reach out to three additional people. This approach is adapted from a best practice method used to increase Black voter turnout called “Votex3,” which harnessed social networks within Black communities to encourage people to vote. Studies have shown that social networks also impact screening rates—in a North Carolina study Black people with higher social connections were three times more likely to get screened for colorectal cancer than those with lower ones.
Dr. Gany aims to determine how this strategy can be incorporated into other racial or immigrant communities, as well as other Black communities in New York City. If successful, it also has the potential to reach a national scope to increase colorectal cancer screening rates and reduce deaths from colorectal cancer in Black communities facing systemic medical barriers.
The Prevent Cancer Foundation has funded over 100 colorectal cancer-focused research projects spanning across three decades and colorectal cancer projects are among the most frequently funded research grants. In the past two years, we’ve funded four research projects and seven community-level grant projects focused on or including colorectal cancer across the U.S.
If you’re at average risk for colorectal cancer, start getting screened at age 45. With routine screening, you can detect cancer early (before signs or symptoms appear!)— which is critical, because Early Detection = Better Outcomes.
Stay tuned: The 2023 research grants and fellowships application cycle will open on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.