UNTHSC Assistant Professors Receive $2.1 million Grant from the Cancer Prevention Institute of Texas

Posted Date: August 28, 2012

Grant will support integration of cancer screening in a behavioral health treatment environment for women.

The Cancer Prevention Institute of Texas (CPRIT), a state-supported fund to enhance access to evidence-based prevention programs and services throughout the state, has awarded the University of North Texas Health Science Center’s School of Public Health (UNTHSC – SPH) and community partners a three-year grant through its prevention funding mechanism.

SPH assistant Epidemiology professors Martha Felini, MPH, PhD, and Raquel Qualls-Hampton, MS, PhD, co-principal investigators on the project, have been awarded $2.07 million to provide culturally sensitive women’s health education and cervical cancer screening to a high risk, underserved population of indigent women with substance abuse and mental health disorders moving in and out of the criminal justice system. They will also take the opportunity to offer screening for oral and anal cancer, conduct a manual breast exam, and test for HIV and hepatitis – both risk factors for cancer. This secondary intervention will provide cervical cancer screenings to women at the largest and only-female substance abuse treatment center in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Nexus Recovery Center (NRC). Cervical screenings will be provided at AIDS Arms, Inc. outpatient clinic, which specializes in providing medical care to indigent and vulnerable HIV positive populations. The Parkland Health System Gynecology Clinic will assist in screening positive women and navigating continued care.

The fastest growing segment of the criminally affected population in Dallas is female offenders on probation for low level crimes. In response to community concern, an existing novel diversion program operating between health care and the criminal justice system is bringing resources to the streets, where women experience the most barriers to care. Due to current jail overcrowding, these women with high health risks will likely be diverted to substance abuse centers, presenting a window of opportunity to engage them in screening programs.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with community partners in integrating physical health services with behavioral or mental health services,” says Dr. Felini. “Offenders with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders are more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer and less likely to obtain cervical screenings. Reasons for this disparity include lack of health care access and fear of screening procedures because of previous trauma and abuse. ”

“Because of these issues,” adds Dr. Qualls-Hampton, “we will adapt and integrate into NRC an evidence-based, culturally appropriate and trauma sensitive health education program to prepare women for the exam.”

This project uses nontraditional community partnerships to leverage existing resources and provide access to a previously hard to reach population at high risk for cervical cancer and more likely to have never had a cervical screen. Networking the partnerships of an existing community collaborative is a way to sustain the integration of screening services with continuing substance abuse treatment after funding has ended.