Rhode Island Health and Healing project promotes cancer screenings

With an average of 6,200 new cases annually, cancer is the second leading cause of death in Rhode Island.1,2 Lung and bronchus, prostate and breast cancer are cited as resulting in the highest cancer-related mortality rates from 2016 to 2020.3 However, according to the World Health Organization, 30-50% of diagnosed cancers are preventable.4

Cancer incidence and mortality prevention

Preventive screenings are essential for early diagnosis and significantly impact incidence and mortality rates for several types of cancer:

  • Screenings are considered the primary factor in the steady decline of colorectal cancer incidence over the past decade.5
  • Mammogram screenings have been found to reduce breast cancer mortality by more than 40%.
  • Over the past three decades, there has been an over 50% decrease in cervical cancer incidence and mortality largely due to screening with the Papanicolaou (Pap) test, which can detect cervical cancer at an early stage as well as pre-cancerous abnormalities.
  • With appropriate evaluation and treatment, survival for women diagnosed with pre-cancerous cervical lesions is almost 100%.

Survival rates also depend on the availability of quality health care post-diagnosis. As community members providing culturally appropriate health education and coordination of services, community health workers (CHW) help patients obtain high-quality services. Studies have shown that individuals newly diagnosed with advanced cancer or cancer recurrence who receive CHW services have substantially lower hospitalization rates and emergency room visits.6 Patients working with CHWs also report improved emotional well-being and greater utilization of advance care planning, palliative and hospice care as compared to those not receiving CHW services. 

Health and Healing project

As part of our commitment to health equity, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Rhode Island has awarded a $48,700 grant to the Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island (MARI) in support of the Health and Healing project. The MARI Health and Healing project strives not only to improve cancer screening rates, but to provide education on topics of cancer, treatment and survivorship opportunities, particularly among BIPOC individuals. By spreading awareness of prevalent cancer types as well as available screening and treatment opportunities, Rhode Islanders are better equipped to make informed decisions about their health.

Through the Health and Healing project, the RIDOH Comprehensive Cancer Control Program will facilitate 16 community conversations on topics relating to cancer screenings, survivorship and building trust in the health care system. RIDOH will additionally employ an epidemiologist to oversee the Rhode Island Cancer Registry Program and identify local disparities. A CHW will be employed for 42 weeks to help uninsured/underinsured women access breast and cervical cancer screenings.

Support will be extended through the provision of three to six cancer support groups for survivors and their loved ones. Local providers will support community conversations about cancer screenings and building trust in the health care system. Pastors of participating churches will also facilitate a “sign-up Sunday” event to identify individuals willing to undergo cancer screenings. The CHW will then follow up with identified individuals, providing navigation and resource support. Six local churches have already committed to participation in the project.

“We are very appreciative of the collaboration with UnitedHealthcare and their excitement to partner with us,” said Pastor Howard Jenkins, MARI president and pastor, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Providence. “To be effective in increasing cancer screening rates and cancer survivorship supports for the communities who need them most, it is imperative that faith-based organizations, like the Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island, have the support of community partners. The synergy that has been created through this collaboration with UnitedHealthcare shows that community voices are being heard.”

Our collaboration with MARI and the Health and Healing project underscores our commitment to improving the overall health and well-being of Rhode Islanders. Through the provision of resources and dedicated health education, the Health and Healing project aims to empower individuals to make informed choices about their health. Along with increased access to screenings, the project prioritizes trust in the health care system to improve positive long-term health outcomes for Rhode Islanders.

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