A community outreach team at UT Health Northeast is working to get residents to sign up for colorectal cancer screenings—particularly those who do not have health insurance.

It’s part of a grant through the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, which pays for free colon cancer screenings or colonoscopies for residents in Smith, Anderson, Cherokee, Henderson, Rusk, Van Zandt and Wood counties. While health officials target under- and uninsured residents in those counties, they said anyone who inquires about the program can receive a screening. The hospital’s $1.23-million grant runs through 2017.

Dr. Edward Sauter, a specialist in cancer surgery at UT Health Northeast, said 60 to 80 percent of people with adequate insurance undergo colorectal screenings, while only about 25 percent of those with no insurance or a high co-pay get a colorectal screening.

He noted that in Texas—which has the highest number of uninsured at 25 percent—there is much room for improvement.

“One of the important things about colorectal cancer screening that people don’t realize is that it is the biggest bang for your buck of any type of cancer screening,” Sauter said Monday at the hospital during the education session “Let’s Talk About Colon Cancer.” “It’s far more effective in terms of preventing death from cancer than mammography. The cost per life saved from mammograms is in the order of a couple million dollars. Colorectal cancer is far less than that.”

However, fewer people get the screening compared to others such as mammograms and prostate cancer screenings.

“The numbers are improving, but that impact has not hit people without insurance,” Sauter said.

Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of death in the United States. It affects about 60 percent of Americans, with almost 50,000 dying each year.

“That rate has dropped a little bit with active colorectal cancer screenings but they haven’t dropped as significantly as we had hoped,” said Dr. Jimmy Morrison, a gastroenterologist at UT Health Northeast. “So, we continue to emphasize patients having appropriate screening measures.”

During Colon Cancer Awareness Month, UT Health Northeast has increased messages about colon cancer prevention and screening.

“Colorectal screenings is one of the unique tests that both provides prevention and early detection,” Sauter said. “It’s therapeutic as well as diagnostic.”

Morrison said a key prevention strategy, as with other cancers and chronic illnesses, is to improve lifestyle. That includes regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco products and by limiting alcohol intake.

“There are some specific things we can do to prevent certain kinds of conditions that can shorten our lives,” he said.

Sauter, along with Dr. Bola Olusola, will speak about colon cancer and the CPRIT grant beginning at 6:30 p.m. tonight at One Stop Barber Shop, at 1710 Garden Valley Road.

To register for a free colon cancer screening, call 903-877-8937 or email crc.outrech@uthct.edu.