Fernandez receives 2-1-1 research grant from Texas Cancer Program

HOUSTON – (April 7, 2010) – The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the United Way’s 2-1-1 telephone information system are collaborating on a cancer prevention research project.

Spearheaded by María E. Fernández, Ph.D., an associate professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of UTHealth, the prevention project looks into the benefits of offering cancer prevention information to 2-1-1 callers, many of whom have limited resources. The information will include where to access local and affordable cancer screening services Fernández’s research is funded with a $961,021 cancer prevention grant received through the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Earlier, she won a $1.4 million research grant from CPRIT to test new strategies to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer among Hispanic women. “Dr. Fernández is the first investigator to receive a CPRIT research award as well a prevention award,” said Bill Gimson, CPRIT executive director.

UTHealth researchers have received grants totaling $5.5 million through CPRIT. UTHealth President Larry Kaiser, M.D., represented the university at an April 7 CPRIT check presentation ceremony at Rice University.

Right now, 2-1-1 callers rarely request information on cancer, although they are often in need of services for cancer screening, vaccination and smoking cessation, according to a pilot study Fernández conducted in collaboration with the United Way Gulf Coast 2-1-1 service.

Through the newly funded prevention program, callers will be referred to dedicated 2-1-1 operators in Houston and Weslaco who will be trained to identify callers in need for cancer prevention services including mammography, Pap tests and colorectal cancer screening exams, as well as Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination against the most common types of cervical cancer.

After identifying callers’ potential need for cancer prevention services, the 2-1-1 specialists will provide information about affordable and local health providers who can deliver the relevant service, she said. The project also includes development and testing of a program in which trained specialists will follow-up with callers to provide additional support to help them overcome any potential barriers in order to access recommended cancer prevention services.

Afterward, researchers will examine the effect of their cancer control program compared to providing basic information on cancer prevention services without the additional support, Fernández said.

“If effective, this program could be broadly disseminated through the extensive statewide United Way Texas 2-1-1 network leading to significant increases in multiple cancer prevention behaviors,” Fernández said. “By implementing evidence-based strategies to increase cancer prevention behaviors and enhance access for the underserved within the scope of existing 2-1-1 resources, we can effectively decrease cancer-related health disparities in Texas.”

In 2007 Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that led to the establishment of CPRIT and authorized the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas. CPRIT’s goal is to expedite innovation and commercialization in cancer research and to enhance access to evidence-based prevention programs and services throughout the state.

For more information about this story, call Rob Cahill at UT’s Media Hotline:713-500-3030