While snow-capped mountains, breathtaking mesas, flowing rivers and the Denver skyline are synonymous with the images most people have of Colorado, the high plains of eastern Colorado actually account for nearly a third of the state’s land mass.
Unique in history, geography, industry and way of life, the residents of eastern Colorado face their own set of health care issues. In 2004, research showed that eastern Coloradans were lagging behind the state in colon cancer screening rates.
To increase awareness, the High Plains Research Network (HPRN) - a primary care practice- based research network that includes approximately 150 health care practitioners and covers all 16 eastern Colorado counties - received funding from the CDC to create a community education and marketing program that engaged community members in Colorado’s northeast region to get the word out about colon cancer incidence, causes, prevention and testing options.
Leading this community campaign was the HPRN Community Advisory Council (C.A.C.). The C.A.C. is comprised of farmers, ranchers, teachers, students, business folks and retirees – all people who live in the area and can provide insight into the best way to reach this rural population. HPRN believes that, by joining the best science with the community knowledge and experience, HPRN and the C.A.C. produces more relevant and effective projects and programs than either partner could alone.
Research found that Coloradans in the eastern regions of the state did not respond to the word screening for colorectal cancer as that implied looking for a cancer that already existed but they did respond to the message that testing could prevent colon cancer from ever developing. Hence, the “testing to prevent colon cancer campaign” was born and developed into a culturally relevant, community-wide intervention to promote colon cancer awareness and testing in northeast Colorado. Through the use of farm auction flyers, travel mugs, newspaper ads and stories featuring local community members, and community talks, the campaign sought to convey that colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, it is preventable, testing is worth it and residents need to talk to their doctor about testing.
After attending a community talk on colon cancer testing at a local gun club meeting, one resident of northeast Colorado decided to ask his doctor about colon cancer testing. His subsequent colonoscopy discovered polyps which were removed before they could develop into cancer. He credits the campaign with saving his life.
In northeast Colorado, the percent of survey respondents that reported ever having any kind of colon cancer testing was five percent higher at follow-up. Eleven percent more respondents reported at follow-up that they ever had a colonoscopy.
“The impact the campaign had on the local community exceeded expectations,” explained Linda Zittleman, MSPH and associate director of HPRN. “The C.A.C. designed a program that tapped further into existing local resources and activated even more local residents. We’re still hearing stories of the effect of the program on people’s recent decisions to talk to their doctor about colon cancer prevention. The program uses a process and materials that can be replicated across other rural Colorado communities and positively impact the entire state.”
The Caring for Colorado Foundation is funding these efforts to replicate the campaign in southeast Colorado. In its second year of funding, the Testing to Prevent Colon Cancer in Rural Colorado community education campaign aims to raise awareness about the need for colon cancer testing, increase testing rates, and improve the health of people living in southeast rural Colorado.