Providence Saint John’s Health Center, renowned for leading-edge cancer care and research, has donated $2 million to the Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Colorectal Cancer Health Equity Dream Team and its commitment to address colorectal cancer screening disparities in medically underserved communities.

Anton Bilchik, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.S., professor of surgery and chief of the gastrointestinal research program at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute, will co-lead the Dream Team, which will bring together leading researchers, patient advocates, community leaders and clinicians to accomplish several goals, including improving colorectal cancer screening in underserved communities.

“Providence and SU2C have collaborated to change the inequities in colorectal cancer and increase screening rates to 80 percent, led by a Dream Team of researchers,” said Dr. Bilchik, who also serves as and chairman of the division of general surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. “The Dream Team’s members, all from major academic institutions, bring a deep understanding of racial/ethnic minority communities and health inequities regionally and nationally through their extensive career experience and published research.”

The team will address colorectal cancer inequities through screening, research, education and training in three SU2C Zones: Greater Los Angeles, Greater Boston and the Great Plains Tribal Communities in South Dakota. These zones include diverse and distinct communities that are medically underserved and have particularly low screening rates for colorectal cancer, the second most common cause of cancer-related death in American men and women combined.

The effort was already a priority locally, as Dr. Bilchik previously began research in the molecular and immunology laboratories at Saint John’s Cancer Institute to better understand why colon cancer cases are occurring at a younger age and whether they are preventable. Preliminary findings have identified some key differences in young people with colon cancer that could be applied to the Dream Team’s strategy, Bilchik said.

“Lowering the colorectal cancer screening age to 45 is an important step as we look to save more lives from this preventable cancer,” Dr. Bilchik said. “But given the disproportionate impact on medically underserved communities, raising awareness for colorectal cancer and screening options remains critical.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Bilchik, Providence will design and deploy a community-based campaign to increase colorectal cancer screening rates in demographically diverse areas within Los Angeles. Providence will recruit and deploy community health action teams (CHATs) – residents trained and supported to work as health promoters and care navigators within their own neighborhoods – to implement a locally designed and operated colorectal cancer screening campaign. CHATs won’t stop with screening; they will accompany participating Providence patients along the journey from screening to treatment to survivorship.

To increase convenience and accessibility, at-home screening tests for colorectal cancer will be provided to unscreened community members. Any required follow-up colonoscopies will be provided free for uninsured or under-insured participants. 

Colorectal cancer incidence and deaths are highest in Black Americans, followed closely by American Indians/Alaska Natives and lowest in Asians/Pacific Islanders. People with the lowest socioeconomic status are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer than those with the highest socioeconomic status. Additionally, screening rates for Americans 50 to 75 years old are the lowest in American Indians/Alaska Natives (56 percent,) followed by Asian people (58 percent,) Hispanic people (59 percent), Black people (66 percent) and White people (69 percent.)

Submitted by: Patricia Aidem