Center for Asian Health Equity awarded $3.5 million CDC grant

Center for Asian Health Equity awarded $3.5 million CDC grant

Federal funding will improve colorectal cancer screening rates in Cook County

September 8, 2015

The Center for Asian Health Equity, a partnership between the University of Chicago Medicine and the Asian Health Coalition, has received a five-year, $3.5 million federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase colorectal cancer screenings, particularly among underserved communities in Cook County.

The CDC funding will create the Cook County Colon Cancer Alliance to Reignite and Enhance Screening (Cook County CARES). It marks the first time an organization in Illinois has received CDC funding for colorectal cancer screening and prevention.

"This is ultimately about saving lives," said Karen Kim, MD, a professor of medicine who is director of the Center for Asian Health Equity. "Too often, the nature of the health care system leaves a critical stone unturned for patients. This grant means more patients will have a chance at early screenings, which are directly tied to early detection and better long-term outcomes. Working to make sure people have a better chance at a longer life is a fantastic opportunity."

Research shows colorectal cancer screenings – such as colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies – save lives. But the rates remain troublingly low. Nationwide, only 58 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 75 have been tested for colorectal cancer – far below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 70.5 percent. Illinois ranks 36th in the nation for its screening rate of 62.5 percent, according to federal data.

The statistics are even worse for minorities: Asian-Americans have the lowest screening rates among ethnic groups, while African-Americans have the highest mortality rates. Overall, about one in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in the colon or rectum in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.

To improve Cook County's screening rates, the Center for Asian Health Equity will partner with three federally qualified health centers (Heartland Health Centers, Mile Square Health Clinic and Asian Human Services) and the University of Chicago Medicine to increase the number of patients who receive colorectal cancer screenings. The program will harness evidence-based methods and electronic medical records to prompt clinicians to screen patients.

"We're working with local federally qualified health centers to target racial and ethnic minorities because these organizations have demonstrated that they have the technical capacity to offer screening and follow-up in a community setting," said Kim, who is also the grant's principle investigator. "Beyond that, we know these local community partners understand the targeted populations and can offer grassroots outreach to reach these patients and make sure they get the preventive screenings they need."

Combined, the three health centers care for patients at more than 20 locations across Cook County and target low-income Asian, African-American and Hispanic groups. Additional partners include the American Cancer Society, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois, Chicago Department of Public Health and Illinois Department of Public Health.

"We commend the Center for Asian Health Equity for leading this effort in Illinois," said Nirav Shah, MD, JD, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. "Systematic approaches are needed to reach the ambitious national colorectal cancer screening goals. We hope this program creates a roadmap for other public health groups in Illinois to follow."

Cook County CARES is wholly funded through grant 1 NU58DP006079-01-00 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About the Asian Health Coalition

The Asian Health Coalition was established in 1996 as a non-profit organization with a mission to improve the health and wellness of the Asian Americans through advocacy, technical assistance, community-based education and research. To learn more, visit