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Rural women lag in cancer screenings. Remote outreach could be key.

A woman receives a mammogram, administered by a nurse.
Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center
Some rural women struggle to access cancer screenings. A study by OSU finds remote outreach can help.

Rural areas lag behind when it comes to cancer screenings.

The disparity has led researchers at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC) to analyze the best ways to reach the at-risk population.

In their latest study, they found that rural women are six times more likely to get breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings after being mailed a DVD on cancer risk, followed by a personal call from a patient navigator.

Electra Paskett, researcher and co-director of OSUCCC, said it allowed women to share their personal struggles in not accessing testing and get solutions on how to overcome them.

“Each person is individual, not only in what tests they need, but the reasons why they haven't gotten the test,” she said.

Three different intervention strategies were tested among 983 women between the ages of 50-78 in rural counties in Ohio and Indiana.

Barriers to testing

Rural Ohioans often struggle to reach the necessary healthcare services needed for cancer testing. For example, there are around seven counties in Appalachian Ohio that don’t have a mammography facility, Paskett said.

“Each person is individual, not only in what tests they need, but the reasons why they haven't gotten the test."
Electra Paskett, OSU cancer researcher

“If you don't have a mammogram facility close to you, you're less likely to be up to date,” she said.

On top of that, socioeconomic factors play a role. Working class Ohioans might find it hard to take off work to get a screening or even to cover the cost of testing.

That’s why the researchers chose to focus on remote interventions. They needed solutions that went beyond the traditional in-person encouragement, said Victoria Champaign, researcher and professor of nursing at Indiana University.

“We have technology available to overcome previous barriers such as rurality and access to care,” Champaign said.

The cost of skipping screenings

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Ohio, claiming the lives of nearly 25,000 Ohioans in 2020, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Paskett said women are dying every day of cancers that could have been prevented. She hopes more intervention into rural communities can help to stop cancer in its earliest form, when it is treatable.

“Colorectal and cervical cancer screening actually can detect precancerous conditions, so that women can be treated for those conditions and they won't even develop cancer in the first place,” she said.

She believes the remote outreach can not only help save lives, but that it’s cost effective. Cancer treatments average $150,000 per woman. Paskett said the intervention plan cost just a fraction of that, in the tens of thousands of dollars range.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.