FluFIT aims to help fight colon cancer

Photo Contributed

Front row, from left: Manasi Jayaprakash, MD-Program Manager, University of Chicago Medicine, Jennifer Beeson-Shelby County Health Department, Sandra Sommer-Henry/Stark County Health Department, Emily Koebnick-University of Chicago Medicine, Christy Mayberry-Wabash County Health Department, Crystal Schutzbach-Effingham County Health Department. Back row, from left: Rudy Bess-Hope Light Foundation, Rhonda Ray-Southern Seven Health Department, Nancy Martin-Christian County Health Department, Marcie May-Christian County Health Department, Fornessa Randal-Executive Director University of Chicago's Center for Asian Health Equity

Staff Report

The Hope Light Foundation and the University of Chicago Center for Asian Health Equity (CCAHE) are working in partnership along with six local health departments, including Southern Seven Health Department (S7HD), to carry out a FluFIT program to fight Colorectal Cancer (CRC) in rural Illinois.

This FluFIT program is an extension of the Cook County Colon Cancer Alliance to Reignite and Enhance Screening Program, i.e., Cook County CARES, that is funded by a grant from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The major objective of the FluFIT Program is to increase CRC screening rates by encouraging eligible age 50 plus patients to take home fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits during annual flu shot activities.

Regular colorectal cancer screenings is one of the most powerful weapons used to fight colorectal cancer, as screening can often detect colorectal cancer early, when it's small, hasn't spread, and could be easier to treat. With screening, doctors can find and remove polyps before they have the chance to turn into cancer.

In addition to S7HD, the partnership targeted Christian County Health Department, Wabash County Health Department, Henry-Stark Health Department, Effingham County Health Department and Shelby County Health Department due to having significantly high CRC incidence and death rates for ages 50 plus.

For instance, all six health departments appear in the Top 30 list of Illinois counties with the highest CRC incidence rates and are also in the Top 300 list of all 3,141 U.S. counties with the highest CRC incidence rate.

Five of the six counties also appear in the Top 300 list of counties with the highest CRC new cases that were diagnosed in late stages, i.e., regional and distance.

Both Wabash and Massac counties are listed as numbers 132 and 271 respectively of all 3,141 US counties with the highest CRC death rates.

Rhonda Ray, S7HD executive director/public health administrator explains colorectal cancer is linked to family history and is why she says she tells people it is important to know their family history. If there have been family member with colorectal cancer, it is important they get screened.

Ray says the FluFIT kits have been around for the past 10 years and can serve as a means to detect blood in the stool, which could indicate colon cancer, diverticulitis, diverticulosis or hemorrhoids.

The FIT kits are easy to use with a one-time stool sample. Individuals will be requested to return the kits to the health departments which will analyze the results and following up with the patient and their primary care provider and arrange for a diagnostic colonoscopy if the results are positive.

Some people may avoid having a colonoscopy because they do not want to drink the prep for the procedure. Ray says the FluFIT kit is a way for those people to get screened for colon cancer without having a colonoscopy.

However, Ray emphasizes the colonoscopy is considered "the gold standard," when it comes to detecting colon cancer and she notes the FluFIT kit cannot detect polyps or remove polyps, if there are any.

"It doesn't prevent it [colon cancer] but it can help find it early," said Ray.

According to information from S7HD, in 2017, 42 health departments in the state of Illinois joined together to provide FIT during flu clinics. Twenty eight percent of those screenings turned out to be abnormal. In the United States, the average rate of abnormal screenings is 7 to 12 percent.

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the U.S. and the second leading cause in men. Anyone 50 years of age and older is at risk of developing colon cancer.

To date, The Hope Light Foundation has received five grants from the University of Chicago since August 2017 for the rural FluFIT program totaling in excess of $71,000. This year, Hope Light will distribute $5000 to each of the six partnering health departments to cover the cost of time and materials including purchasing FIT kits.

Last year's CAHE/Hope Light Foundations FluFIT program ending in March of this year, resulted in five Illinois Local Health Departments distributing 351 FIT kits with 133 being returned to find fourteen positive results. These patients were referred to their primary care clinician for a colonoscopy to check for polyps and/or cancer.

This year, the kits will begin being distributed on Saturday, September 21.

According to Rudy Bess, Hope Light founding director, this year, Hope Light also received a $25,000 grant from the University of Chicago's Asian Health Coalition to provide health education on viral Hepatitis B prevention, screening of targeted at-risk populations, immunizations to those found susceptible to Hepatitis B and linkage to care for those found to live with chronic Hepatitis B.

Individuals chronically infected with Hepatitis B usually have a 25 percent to 40 percent lifetime risk of developing liver cancer. Three grantees were selected to participate in the Asian Health Coalition's "Don't Let Hepatitis B Win" campaign i.e., Community Health and Emergency Services, Inc. (CHESI), Rural Health Inc. and Madison County Health Department. Hope Light distributed $7500 to each of these three grantees to cover their time and materials in support of the Hepatitis B program. Between CHESI and Rural Health Inc., eleven counties in extreme southern Illinois were covered in the Hepatitis B program including all S7HD counties.

The Asian Health Coalition's Hepatitis B program is funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"For many years I have felt, like many others, that southern Illinois is "downstate and forgotten" which is why it has higher poverty, higher unemployment, fewer businesses and more health issues than upstate in Chicago. Now, thanks to the University of Chicago, the George A. Bates Memorial Foundation of Chicago working together with The Hope Light Foundation of St. Louis, we hope to decrease the burden of colorectal cancer in rural Illinois through the FluFIT program and reduce Hepatitis B and liver cancer through the University's "Don't Let Hepatitis B Win" campaign," said Bess.

The Hope Light Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, tax exempt charitable organization with a mission to communicate all-cancers awareness information with a focus on primary prevention, early detection and survivorship using their website and evidence-based outreach activities in Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri. The major contributor of the Foundation is the George A. Bates Memorial Foundation.

To find out more information about the FluFIT kits, individuals may contact S7HD by phone at its administrative office, 618-634-2297 or visit their website at www. Or find S7HD on Facebook at: facebook.com/SouthernSevenHealthDepartment/

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