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To make advances in cancer prevention, treatment and control, it requires a deep understanding of the cancer issues faced by those we serve and responding with tailored solutions.

In The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s catchment area, which includes the entire state of Kansas and western Missouri, nearly one-third of the population lives in rural communities. Studies show those living in rural areas are less likely to get cancer, but more likely to die from it. As the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center serving those communities, we are accountable for understanding the cancer’s impact and engaging the community to address that burden.

Our team works tirelessly to bridge that gap, connecting with community members and healthcare providers to ensure everyone has access to the latest in cancer treatment and prevention. We spoke to some of our rural experts about their efforts.

Christie Befort, PhD (CB), Associate Director, Cancer Prevention and Control, Co-Program Leader, Cancer Prevention and Control

Gary Doolittle, MD (GD), Medical Director, Masonic Cancer Alliance (MCA)

K. Allen Greiner, MD, MPH (AG), Community Health Medical Director, Kansas Patients and Providers Engaged in Prevention Research (KPPEPR)

Jennifer R. Klemp, PhD, MPH (JK), Director, Cancer Survivorship, Co-Program Leader, Cancer Prevention and Control

Hope Krebill, MSW, BSN, RN (HK), Executive Director, Masonic Cancer Alliance, Assistant Director, Outreach

Why is it important to focus on rural communities?

AG: Rural communities have limited access to specialty forms of healthcare and in many cases suffer from worse health outcomes than those living in urban and suburban regions of the state. In addition, they face other barriers to receiving cancer prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship care.

CB: If all we did was focus on the people in our backyard here in Kansas City, we would be missing the heart of our heritage and a core element of our purpose.

JK: As someone who grew up on a farm in northeast Kansas, I experienced firsthand the challenges accessing primary and specialty healthcare. Based on this experience, I want to listen to patients and providers and meet their needs, keeping as much evidence-based care as possible close to home.

GD: It’s all about getting the right services to the right people at the right time. Whether the need is primary cancer prevention, access to cutting-edge clinical trials or survivorship services — we have an obligation to serve them.

What is the cancer center doing to bridge the gap in rural cancer care and control?

AG: The Masonic Cancer Alliance (MCA), the cancer center’s outreach network, provides extensive education and community service and outreach to rural communities across the region. It also includes the KPPEPR practice-based research network. We just received an NCI community oncology research program (NCORP) grant. This allows rural hospitals and practices across the cancer center’s catchment area to engage in more national clinical trials.

GD: At any given time, 30 or more cancer clinical trials may be offered to patients at MCA’s partner sites. This enables patients to access a clinical trial close to home.

HK: MCA travels across the state to provide cancer survivorship programs and cancer screenings in collaboration with its members and the Kansas Masons. Over the last ten years, more than 10,000 individuals have been screened at our outreach events.

JK: Our genetic counseling education program has allowed our subject matter experts and local providers across the state to build a community of practice surrounding breast cancer genetic testing. This opportunity to be part of a community of practice is a key method to collaboration and sharing best practices across the catchment area.

I’m a cancer survivor, now ten years from my diagnosis. I was able to access excellent care close to home. I want this for every cancer patient in our catchment area. Dr. Gary Dolittle

Why is it important to partner with local providers?

CB: We often talk about lack of healthcare resources and access in rural communities, but one of the greatest resources in many small towns is the relationships local providers have with their patients and communities, which often extend across multiple generations. Those relationships, and the ones we build with them, are what will sustain any efforts we make to extend our research, education and healthcare into the remote areas of Kansas and western Missouri.

HK: When you are in a rural community, healthcare providers may have few or no colleagues providing the same service in their community. Often physicians, nurses and advanced practice professionals must travel to access professional education. Healthcare providers find value in learning from each other, and MCA provides professional education by extending training and networking calls via interactive televideo programs. In the last year we extended 1,586 professional education hours.

What motivates you?

GD: I’m a cancer survivor, now ten years from my diagnosis. I was able to access excellent care close to home. I want this for every cancer patient in our catchment area.

CB: I am motivated by people I get to meet and partner with, and the places I get to visit. I love rural Kansas.

JK: My mother is a 23-year breast cancer survivor. Without the partnership between academic and community-based providers, she would not have received the latest treatments and access to clinical trials, which likely are responsible for her living her best life. Without clinical trials and providers willing to think outside the box, I would not have had the opportunity to spend my career in cancer genetics and survivorship with my mother by my side.

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