Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network Funds Colorectal Cancer Screening Study in Collaboration with Native American Community Clinic (NACC)

The Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network (MNCCTN) is happy to announce the funding of two studies as part of the network’s inaugural grant program. The program, announced in January 2021, was intended to encourage the development of trials for the MNCCTN and broaden the depth and reach of clinical trials offered to cancer patients in Minnesota. The projects will each receive up to $125,000 for the funding cycle. Awardees will work in partnership with the MNCCTN HUB team on development and implementation of their studies over the next year.  

The first study was awarded in the Diversity & Equity category. Proposed trials in this category were required to address the cancer burden in underrepresented racial or ethnic minority populations in Minnesota. This category was open to any investigator or community partners, and projects were not limited to a rural setting or to MNCCTN partners and sites. This category’s recipient is Aasma Shaukat, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, Masonic Cancer Center member, and GI Section Chief for Minneapolis VAHCS, in partnership with Native American Community Clinic (NACC) in Minneapolis, for the project “Implementation of proactive colon cancer screening program for the Native American community.” 

Colorectal cancer screening is extremely important to detect cancer early and improve patient outcomes. In Minnesota, screening rates for colorectal cancer are 75 percent, but that number decreases to 50-55 percent in non-white populations. Screening rates in 2020 and 2021 have declined even more due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At NACC, a clinic that provides free health care services to Native Americans, screening rates are especially low at about 25 percent.

Typically, many providers and clinics in the United States use an opportunistic screening approach. For example, a doctor will recommend screening when a patient comes into the clinic for a visit. However, this approach may miss certain individuals, especially those who may not have access to regular health care services or to insurance. As a result, a more proactive screening approach may be more beneficial. 

Dr. Shaukat’s study aims to assess the effectiveness of a proactive outreach colorectal cancer screening program for NACC patients. The study will use a proactive outreach approach that incorporates a mailed invitation to screen, followed by navigation to a colonoscopy if the initial screening is positive.

“We are excited for this partnership with NACC with the support of MNCCTN to complete this pilot successfully,” said Dr. Shaukat. “We hope to gather feasibility and some effectiveness data to better tailor the program and expand it to other underserved communities in Minnesota, including rural communities.”

MNCCTN has worked on multiple other projects with the Native American community in Minnesota, so Dr. Shaukat’s project was a natural fit for the program and its expanding priorities. While previously the network’s work has been largely limited to rural settings, reaching underserved and underrepresented populations in urban areas is a growing priority for MNCCTN. This is in recognition of the fact that just because an academic medical center or other health care institution offering clinical trials may be available blocks away, that does not mean urban individuals, especially from racial and ethnic minority populations or people without access to healthcare and insurance, can access them or participate. The MNCCTN team is excited to develop this new partnership with NACC to provide access to clinical trials to underserved populations and break down more barriers to participating in research.