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Press release content from Globe Newswire. The AP news staff was not involved in its creation.

TTUHSC El Paso’s Life-Saving Cancer Prevention Programs Receive $5 Million in CPRIT Funding

September 22, 2021 GMT

EL PASO, Texas, Sept. 22, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Colorectal cancer runs in Jose Gaytan’s family, so preventing the disease was a priority for the 51-year-old. However, he wasn’t able to afford regular cancer screenings.

That was the case until last year, when his mother saw a flyer for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Southwest Coalition for Colorectal Cancer Screening (SuCCCeS) program. Gaytan signed up at once for a free screening.

“I’d never been screened because I didn’t have the money or insurance,” Gaytan said. “My aunt and uncle passed away from colon cancer, so it was frequently on my mind.”

TTUHSC El Paso’s SuCCCeS and the Breast Cancer Education, Screening and Navigation (BEST) programs screen for cancer and provide cancer-prevention education for uninsured or underinsured residents. The programs have helped save lives throughout dozens of West Texas counties for nearly a decade.

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BEST and SuCCCeS are funded by a state agency, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The agency provides funding for public and private institutions of higher education and recently renewed its funding for TTUHSC El Paso’s two screening programs for a total of $5 million.

Since 2011, more than 32,500 uninsured or underinsured patients from El Paso and West Texas have enrolled in the programs. The result has been the discovery of 39 cases of breast cancer and 30 colorectal cancers, including the condition in Gaytan in January 2020.

“When they told me I had cancer, I felt like my world fell apart, and I was depressed,” Gaytan said. “Luckily, the SuCCCeS program helped me by attending all my appointments until my surgery was done. After surgery, they checked on me to make sure I was OK.”

Gaytan’s last treatment was in late 2020, and he’s currently in remission. He said he never expected to receive this kind of help in El Paso until he came across the SuCCCeS program. Several of his family members followed suit and were screened as well. 

Screenings provided by the programs are vital in the Hispanic-majority Borderland. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Hispanic women in the U.S., and colorectal cancer mortality rates among Hispanics are higher in El Paso County than the rest of Texas.

“We’ve made an enormous difference in our community and others in West Texas. Over the past several years, we’ve reached over 30,000 people with educational outreach and have provided 9,000 individual screenings,” said Jennifer Molokwu, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Division in TTUHSC El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Cancer. “Uninsured or underinsured people tend to avoid getting screened because they’re concerned about the cost. We want them to know that we’re here to help them.”

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Dr. Molokwu is also an associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and a family medicine specialist at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso. Earlier this year, she took over as director for the Cancer Prevention and Control Division, which oversees all cancer screening programs.

“They see our success in El Paso and West Texas, which is a main reason why CPRIT continues funding our programs,” Dr. Molokwu said. “El Paso is underserved when it comes to health care services and physicians. It’s worse when it comes to cancers: rectal, breast and cervical.”

BEST has helped residents from El Paso County to Pecos County, while SuCCCeS reaches  the Texas Panhandle to Floyd County. In total, both programs cover 37 West Texas counties, many of which lack specialists and are not covered by similar programs in Central and South Texas.

MEDIA CONTACT:
Berenice Zubia at 915-253-9399 or news.ep@ttuhsc.edu

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Image 1: TTUHSC El Paso team - Love Your Colon event



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