Building innovative cancer prevention programs in Chicago

A $1.5 million grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation will support the University of Illinois Cancer Center’s efforts to reduce cancer disparities in Chicago.

The three-year funding award will be used to develop population-specific cancer prevention and screening programs at community hospitals or health centers in three Chicago neighborhoods — Austin, Humboldt Park and South Shore. The programs will rely on community navigators to reach more than 600 people living in these high-need areas and work directly in those communities to help remove barriers to obtaining an early diagnosis, a key factor in long-term and lifetime cancer survival.

In Chicago’s Austin and Humboldt Park neighborhoods programs will primarily target cervical cancer prevention and screening in partnership with two community hospitals, The Loretto Hospital and Norwegian American Hospital, respectively.

Colorectal cancer prevention and screening will be the focus of the program in South Shore, where the UI Cancer Center will work with UI Health Mile Square Health Center, a network of federally qualified health centers with a community health center in the neighborhood, and Project Brotherhood, a community-based organization established more than 20 years ago to address the causes of poor health and low participation in the health care system among black men.

“This program will rely on people from the community to work in the community, in direct response to the health care needs of the community,” said Karriem Watson, associate director of community outreach and engagement at the UI Cancer Center and principal investigator.

Watson, who is also co-director of the Office of Community Engaged Research and Implementation Science at the cancer center, said that direct conversations with members of these three communities inspired the program.

“We listened. And we looked at the data — Austin, Humboldt Park and South Shore communities are areas where the incidence of these cancer types is high and access and awareness to screening programs is low,” Watson said. “Questions about where to go, what to get, what to ask and how to access health programs are common and confusing. By working with people to address these questions and supporting participation in preventive cancer care, we can improve cancer outcomes and the health and wellbeing of the men, women and families we serve, starting with some of our closest neighbors.”

“We’re a different kind of cancer center,” said Dr. Robert Winn, director of the UI Cancer Center and associate vice chancellor for community-based practice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “We’re about going where everyday people are and bridging the gap between what happens in a scientific lab and what people experience in real life. With this program, we are focused on helping keep our community healthy and out of the hospital. We want all people, regardless of ZIP code or skin color, to have their best chance for a long and healthy life.”

The UI Cancer Center is one of many groups around the U.S. to receive funding from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, which supports community-based programs that promote cancer awareness, screening, care and support among high-risk populations.

“The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is committed to addressing inequalities in access to cancer care for vulnerable populations in the U.S.,” said John Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. “We have an established history in community engagement programs and capacity building and look forward to our partnership with the University of Illinois Cancer Center to test innovations in delivering care and drive significant change for cervical and colorectal cancer patients.”

“A big part of this program is establishing trust,” said Marcus Murray, executive director of Project Brotherhood. “Project Brotherhood has a long track record of working with the community to improve health and we believe that working with the UI Cancer Center on this project is a great way to impact the community on a different level. We’re establishing a relationship that will impact the future.”

“We are delighted to be a part of this program,” said Angela Waller, director of community engagement and strategic partnerships at The Loretto Hospital. “Safety-net hospitals are historically under-funded and under-resourced.  This partnership is an opportunity for The Loretto Hospital to provide a much-needed service to our patients that we could have not done so otherwise.”

Vida Henderson, research scientist, will help oversee the screening program in Austin and Kathy Tossas-Milligan, co-director of the Office of Community Engaged Research and Implementation Science, will help oversee the program in Humboldt Park.