Grant obtained for improved cancer screening among Appalachian women

Published 7:41 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019


News release

In the rural regions of Appalachian states, there are significant health disparities that persist for area residents, many of which pertain to cancer patients or to the risk of getting cancer. Recently, women in the Appalachian region have reported breast cancer screening rates that are much lower than rates across the rest of the nation, and are far below recommended rates for screening in order to prevent and detect early breast cancer.

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To help explore the reasons for this disparity in access to screening, the American Cancer Society has awarded the University of Virginia a Research Scholar Grant for a study that will examine breast cancer screening rates in the Appalachian counties of Kentucky, including Lincoln, Casey and Garrard counties.

Older women in rural areas can benefit the most from breast cancer screenings, but data shows that this population under-utilizes these services. In Appalachian states, as many as 50% of older women aged 50 and older lack access to these recommended screenings, compared to 30% of the same population nationwide.

Dr. Roger Anderson, associate director for Population Sciences at the UVA Cancer Center and professor of Public Health Sciences, is working in collaboration with researchers from other states that are part of the Appalachian region on this important work that will impact Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Specifically, Anderson’s team will examine how the policies, practices and resources of mammography screening facilities in these states’ Appalachian regions affect screening rates and breast cancer incidence among women in the region’s underserved counties.

The team, which began the five-year study in January, will collect survey data on the organizational structure of more than 300 mammography facilities, and will compare that information with healthcare claims data from more than 1.2 million women who receive Medicare or Medicaid insurance in the Appalachian region.

By studying factors such as wait times, hours of operation, community outreach and scope of services, Anderson and the team hope to identify the structural features of these facilities that can reduce poverty-linked disparities in breast cancer screenings and mortality.

“This study is a great opportunity to understand how organizational practices and policies impact mammography screening rates in underserved areas,” says Anderson. “Our team looks forward to finding out what both low- and high-performing organizations are doing, or what they’re not doing, that may be influencing screening rates in each of their communities.”

“The novel part of our research is that no one has really looked at these organizations,”

Anderson adds. “We’ve looked at individual characteristics, such as race, and we’ve looked at different types of approaches to screenings, but this study is really focused on the screening facilities’ structure and practices, and how those in turn impact screening rates.”