RALEIGH, N.C. — Newly acquired funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will help increase colorectal cancer screenings, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday.

The funding, which includes roughly $700,000 in the first year, will allow DHHS to partner with Federally Qualified Health Centers, officials say, to improve colorectal screening systems, educate communities on the importance of screening, and provide increased access, particularly in underserved areas.

“Colorectal cancer is the fourth leading cause of all cancer deaths in North Carolina, but it’s treatable and beatable if caught in early stages,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, Section Chief for Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention in the Division of Public Health. “Our aim is to remove barriers to screening and treatment for people in the higher-risk age range (50 to 75), including those who may not have access to health insurance, and move North Carolina further toward the national testing goal of screening 80 percent in every community.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, data from the Epic Health Research Network shows screening rates have declined by as much as 86 percent as people continue to postpone routine procedures. 

DHHS said in a statement, "As the COVID-19 virus also disproportionately impacts historically marginalized populations in North Carolina, it is more important than ever to increase preventative screenings among the state’s vulnerable communities."

Health officials say historically marginalized populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, are already particularly impacted by colorectal cancer, with African Americans accounting for the highest incidence and mortality rates of those groups.

In August, actor Chadwick Boseman passed away at the age of 43 after a four year battle with the disease. 

Boseman's death has helped spark an increased awareness for colorectal cancer, screenings, and its impact on historically underserved communities.

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