Cancer Study Nets Grants For PHD

Published 5:11 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

A two year Cancer Assessment Study in the Piedmont Health District, now at the half-way point, has progressed from gathering data to gathering resources that will benefit residents of the seven-county health district. As the result of a grant application submitted by Cancer Study Coordinator Justine Young, a Komen for the Cure grant of $50,000 will provide free mammograms for uninsured or under-insured women at Centra Southside Community Hospital. Another grant application has resulted in the Southside Virginia Family YMCA becoming a finalist in LIVESTRONG, an exercise program for cancer survivors.

Under the direction of the VCU/Massey Cancer Center and funded under a Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission Grant, the Cancer Assessment Study was initiated to examine the underlying causes of the high rate of cancer in the district as well as to assist those affected by the disease. Four districts in Virginia with the highest rate of cancer were selected for the study. Piedmont Health District, which includes the counties of Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway, and Prince Edward, was one of the four.

“I started by gathering demographics and statistics about the mortality rates and the types of cancer here,” the study coordinator explained.

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Over the past year Young has interviewed home health agencies, hospitals, and physicians before moving on to focus groups in each of the seven counties.

“Each group had eight to ten people from the general population as well as cancer survivors,” she said. “There has never been a study like this before in the Piedmont Health District.”

Young began by compiling facts and figures.

“This is a very rural region with no metropolitan areas,” her report stated.

A brief summary of other pertinent factors related, “The towns of notable size are Farmville, Crewe, and Blackstone. The total population of the PHD per the US Census Bureau is 104,609. The unemployment rate for the PHD is 9 percent and ranges from a low of 7.4 percent in Cumberland County to 9.8 percent in Prince Edward. This is a very rural community requiring an hour plus drive to reach any metropolitan area. All seven counties are considered medically underserved.”

Education, an important factor in the health care picture, was also considered.

“The state average for those with bachelor's degrees is 33 percent; ours is 12 percent,” Young noted. “With high school diplomas, we are at about a third of the state average.”

Employment is another key factor with regard to health insurance coverage.

“The unemployment rate for the PHD is 9 percent and ranges from a low of 7.4 percent in Cumberland County to a high of 9.8 percent in Prince Edward,” Young related in her report. “Virginia's unemployment rate is 6.5 percent.”

“I got most of my data from the US Census Bureau,” Young noted. “Our district is at the 23 percent poverty level; the state level is 7.2 percent.

“We're trying to identify why the cancer statistics here are so bad,” Young continued. “Is it lack of health insurance or physician availability? Is it diagnostic? Is it lack of education? Is it diet? Is it because there are so many smokers here?”

For the past 12 months, Young has been working on finding answers to these questions.

Now that the study is at the halfway point, Young is better able to judge what resources are needed in the Piedmont District and find ways to make them available to local residents. She is especially pleased with two recent grants. The first brought the Southside Virginia Family YMCA into the running as a finalist for a LIVESTRONG grant that provides a free exercise program for cancer survivors.

The second grant, funded by Komen for the Cure, will provide $50,000 for mammograms for under-insured or uninsured women at Centra Southside Community Hospital.

“In this area we have so many women who don't get mammograms, who can't afford them,” Young stated. “We've also talked to Centra about follow-up care if needed. We'll be helping to send these women in the right direction to get the care they need.”

Any woman in the Piedmont Health District qualifies for these free mammograms.

“They do not need a doctor's referral,” Young stressed. “All they have to do is call the radiology department at Southside.”

In addition to the grants, Young is working on several research projects.

“One of these projects with Dr. Agarwal from VCU will begin April 1,” Young explained. “She will be doing a study on cancer screenings.”

The purpose of this research project is to determine which cancer screenings are currently being received by residents of the Piedmont Health District. It will also look at the reasons given for not having the recommended screenings.

“We're going to hire two people who will go out into the community to places like churches or country stores,” Young said. “They will sit down with people and go through a brief educational program on the computer about recommended cancer screenings. Then they will give a pretest to make sure the information is understood.”

Six months later there will be a follow-up to see if those who saw the cancer screening information received the screenings.

“We're looking at whether education makes an impact and if more people will get screenings if they understand why they are important,” Young advised.

Another proposed research project would look at lifestyle in regard to longevity.

“This project would involve Longwood University because they've agreed to give us access to their lab equipment,” Young related.

Involving the entire community in the cancer assessment study is a major focus for Young.

“I'm currently giving presentations to the board of supervisors in each county as well as the school boards and Chambers of Commerce,” she reported. “When you go through the information I've collected you can see that it's relevant to everybody.”

Young has also been speaking to civic clubs and organizations such as the Lions Club and Rotary Club.

“People need to know about it,” she said.

Input from physicians in the Piedmont Health District was also included in the study.

“Nearly all physicians in the PHD were sent cancer questionnaires,” Young reported.

The findings of that survey listed the most diagnosed cancers as colorectal, lung, prostate, and breast. The top reasons for not having the recommended screenings were: 87 percent – lack of insurance; 80 percent – financial constraints; 67 percent – apprehension about the test; and 53 percent – lack of transportation.

The focus groups, comprised of a cross section of the general population in the seven counties, provided valuable information as well.

“Citizens are aware of the high cancer rate in the district and want to know why,” Young reported. “Residents feel the sense of isolation due to the rural setting and have concerns regarding the distance necessary to get diagnoses and treatment. People do not get screenings due to fear, denial, and coast as well as distance to an MD.”

When the Cancer Assessment Study is completed in April 2013, all of the feedback will go to VCU to be published with that of the other three health districts selected for the study.

Young is currently compiling a list of priority needs for this health district. At the top of the list is developing a regional task force incorporating the local healthcare facilities and organizations, local government, school systems and high education systems, and the available expertise at VCU.

To date, Justine Young is pleased with the progress the study has made in this health district.

“With the grants I've brought here and the research projects, I feel like I'm starting to have an impact on this community and its health concerns,” Young concluded.

To make an appointment for a mammogram provided by the Komen Grant call Centra Southside Community Hospital Imaging Department: (434) 315-2770. There is still time to vote for LIVESTRONG (through March 23); visit; Justine Young is available to speak to clubs and organizations on the Cancer Assessment Study; call (434) 547-2574 or email