UAMS Family Medicine Researchers Receive $985,000 Grant to Improve Colon Cancer Screening Rates

By Jon Parham

LITTLE ROCK – A $985,000 grant will help more University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) resident physicians reach Arkansas patients about the importance of colon cancer screenings.

The four-year National Cancer Institute grant will expand a previous UAMS study aimed at increasing the rate of colon cancer screenings through patient education.

Principal investigators for the study are Geoffrey Goldsmith, M.D., the Garnett professor and chair of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine of the UAMS College of Medicine, and Robert Price, Ph.D., professor and a researcher in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

The researchers will join forces with residency programs based at the UAMS Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Pine Bluff and Texarkana. After training sessions, resident physicians and staff will begin using the techniques in the clinics by late summer.

Resident physicians will learn new methods for discussing colon cancer screenings and be equipped with multi-media resources designed to address patient concerns. In addition, software will be installed on the electronic medical record system in the AHEC clinics that will automatically identify patients who meet risk factors for colon cancer – prompting physicians to discuss the subject with patients.

“This is truly a combination research and education study designed not only to improve colon cancer screening practices but also to teach residents to identify patients who should be screened. It will equip the resident physician to talk with patients about the importance of a screening,” Price said.

Colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer) is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It starts as a polyp and can be prevented if detected early. Some patients may avoid a colon cancer screening because they do not fully understand what is involved and are worried about pain or discomfort.

“This project is an excellent example of translational research since we know that colorectal cancer screening works to reduce death from colorectal cancer, yet not every patient who is eligible for this intervention gets it from their primary care physicians,” said Mark Mengel, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for UAMS Regional Programs and executive director of the UAMS Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Program. “This research project will enable us to evaluate techniques to speed up the process of moving useful evidenced-based screening interventions into practice and making sure more of our patients receive them.”

A 2007 study, also led by Goldsmith and coordinated by Marcia Bias, R.N., in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, found that giving more information to patients in rural family medical practices improved the rate of colon cancer screenings.

Those patients, who watched videos explaining the screening and its importance, were nearly five times more likely to schedule a cancer screening.

With the new program, researchers will conduct orientation sessions for resident physicians and clinic staff starting this spring. The sessions will cover screening guidelines; communication with patients who are from an under-represented minority group such as Latinos or African-Americans; applications for patient education resources; and using the electronic medical record system to prompt discussions with patients.

Working with clinic managers and staff, the researchers will track how the new techniques and tools are implemented into the clinic setting.

“We hope to develop a roadmap for introducing preventative medicine into patient consultations that will not only increase the colon cancer screening rate but could also be used for other diseases,” Price said.

Price said that people age 50 and older should have a colon cancer screening. Those with parents or brothers and sisters who have been diagnosed with colon cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease and should have a screening every three to five years, he said.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a new 540,000-square-foot hospital, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,652 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or