Nearly $4 million Awarded for Cancer Prevention and Research

Cuccaro, Reininger, & Savas received nearly $4 million from The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT)

Paula Cuccaro, Belinda Reineger, and Lara Savas Awarded Research Funding for Cancer Prevention & Control
From left to right: Paula Cuccaro, PhD, Belinda Reininger, DrPH, and Lara Savas, PhD, awarded research funding for cancer research, prevention, and control

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded nearly $4 million to researchers with UTHealth Houston School of Public Health to aid in cancer prevention research. These awards are designed to support research efforts across the state to identify, detect, and prevent cancer. Projects spearheaded by the School of Public Health researchers focus on promoting healthy habits to prevent cancer, facilitating communication and implementation strategies to promote the HPV vaccine, and utilizing early detection strategies to detect and prevent breast and cervical cancer in underserved Latina communities.  

Salud en Mis Manos (SEMM): an Evidence-Based Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program for Underserved Latinas 

Developed in 2011, Salud en Mis Manos (SEMM) is a cancer prevention program designed to increase cervical and breast cancer screening among Latinas through evidence-based behavioral educational strategies. The SEMM program was awarded over $2.5 million in grant support from CPRIT. Partnering with community-based organizations, the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health team will train and coordinate community health workers to deliver SEMM in 36 counties throughout Texas. The community health workers deliver behavioral education and health coach navigation, addressing personal barriers and using a goal-setting protocol to increase access to and use of affordable screening and HPV vaccination services.  

Salient core components of the SEMM program are the community health worker-delivered education and health coach navigation services,” said principal investigator of SEMM, Lara Savas, PhD, associate professor with the Department of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences. During the past three years, despite the pandemic, our community partners and SEMM community health workers have delivered education to 6,187 women and provided 3,361 navigation calls to help connect women to affordable breast and cervical cancer screenings, and HPV vaccinations. 

Data show that nine out of 10 women can prevent cervical cancer by getting regular Pap and HPV tests. Additionally, twice as many Latinas are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year compared to other women. Data show that breast cancer is the most common cancer among Latinas, and breast cancer screenings can reduce mortality by 20%.  

In response to these figures, in a collaborative effort with community partners, Savas and her team plan to scale-up the CHW-delivered program and the SEMM social marketing materials and digital strategies to promote community awareness of breast and cervical screening and HPV vaccination recommendations to reach more than 30,000 Latina women across the state. “With this funding, the SEMM program will have a larger impact on decreasing breast and cervical cancer inequities among Latinas who have complex barriers to obtaining recommended breast and cervical cancer screenings and HPV vaccinations,” she said.  

Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta!: Implementation and Evaluation of an Evidence-Based Multilevel Lifestyle Intervention for Underserved/Rural Populations in South Texas 

Nearly $1 million in grant funding was awarded to principal investigator Belinda Reininger, DrPH, professor of the Department of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences and regional dean of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Brownsville; Natalia Heredia, PhD, assistant professor of the Department of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences; Melissa Valerio, PhD, associate dean of Faculty Affairs, at the School of Public Health; and MinJae Lee, PhD, associate professor at UT Southwestern School of Public Health.  

This program will develop and implement strategies for cancer prevention in four South Texas counties: Cameron, Duval, Hidalgo, and Willacy. The evidence-based program, Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta!, will promote physical activity, healthy eating, and alcohol reduction to prevent cancer in the service area, where rates for certain cancers are disproportionately high. 

“We are honored to receive this grant award, and we are looking forward to expanding our efforts promoting healthy behaviors in the region,” said Reininger.  

Program activities will focus on the foundations of community health, such as education, housing, transportation, and access to health care, that influence the health status of a community. “Individuals in these counties can face barriers to participating in programs like Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta!, including transportation and language. This grant will provide us with resources to address those barriers and ensure that the program reaches those who need it most,” Reininger said. 

All for Them Texas: A multifaceted dissemination and implementation approach to increase HPV vaccination 

The All for Them initiative received close to $500,000 to support efforts to disseminate an effective multilevel, multicomponent program to increase HPV vaccination in Texas. Led by Paula Cuccaro, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences, the program partners with schools across the state to plan, implement, and evaluate comprehensive immunization vaccine clinics. All for Them includes a social marketing and educational campaign for parents and youth, as well as school nurse education regarding HPV vaccination. Utilizing evidence-based approaches, All for Them increases vaccination rates among medically underserved adolescents in Texas.  

The newly funded CPRIT grant is an exciting opportunity for our team to get All for Them directly into the hands of school districts and health care providers. We are developing and testing the approach, Implementing All for Them, which is designed to disseminate the All for Them vaccination program information,” said Cuccaro, principal investigator for All for Them.  

With the objectives of implementing these programs throughout the state, Cuccaro and her team continue to streamline and develop strategies to serve the communities better and facilitate vaccinations. “Through this grant, we’re dedicated to developing something that will allow All for Them to be sustained and to continue protecting Texas youth from preventable cancers. Ultimately, we want All for Them to become institutionalized as a successful approach to HPV vaccination and live on even beyond our CPRIT-funded projects,” said Cuccaro.  

The All for Them dissemination program will partner with the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the American Cancer Society. 

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