A mission fit for a Dream Team: Encouraging colorectal cancer screening in at-risk communities

November 1, 2022 Providence Cancer Team


In this article:

  • Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

  • It’s a cancer that disproportionately affects Black, Latino and American Indian communities.

  • When caught early, the 5-year survival rate is over 90%. However, some populations continue to be hesitant of the medical community because of longstanding racism and prejudice.

  • The Dream Team, a program from Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) and supported by Providence and Exact Sciences, hopes to empower and support communities at the highest risk of colorectal cancer and encourage screening.

When Chadwick Boseman died from colorectal cancer it sent shockwaves across communities – particularly in Black communities. After all, Chadwick Boseman was only 43 years old and was seemingly healthy enough to star as Black Panther in the Avenger movie franchise. As families and friends discussed Boseman’s untimely passing, they often found another startling similarity: They, too, knew loved ones diagnosed with or battling colorectal cancer.

Unfortunately, for the medical community, this commonality wasn’t surprising. Colorectal cancer rates are rising, particularly in Black and Brown communities and in younger individuals. Oncologists, cancer researchers, and community advocates are keen to do something about it.


Stand Up to Cancer® (SU2C) Colorectal Cancer Health Equity Dream Team is one approach. With contributions from leading cancer researchers (including $2 million from Providence Saint John’s Health Center) this team will address colorectal cancer screening disparities in medically underserved communities.

Learn more.


Drafting a dream team

Screenings, like a colonoscopy or an at-home stool test, are essential because when colorectal cancer is caught early, it can often be cured. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASOC), the 5-year survival rate for localized colorectal cancer is 91%. Those numbers begin to drop the farther cancer has spread:

  • 72% five-year survival rate when colorectal cancer has spread to nearby tissue, organs or lymph nodes
  • 15% five-year survival rate when colorectal cancer has spread to distant organs (lungs, brain)

It’s clear that when colorectal cancer is caught early, the better the outcome may be. But how do you engage a community that has been disproportionately affected by an illness and has also experienced a traumatic history of racism and inequity in health care?

One hope is to build a dream team of experts and advocates who will help reach those at most risk of developing colorectal cancer – and educate them on the benefits of early screenings.

“Success to me is 70 to 80% of African Americans between the age of 40 and 50 being screened, Helena Williams, community leader and member at Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church. “That’s what success looks like to me. And I will work very hard for that.”

At the heart of the Dream Team are the people closest to colorectal cancer and the communities they impact – including leading researchers, oncologists, advocates, patients and community leaders. Together, they are forming community health action teams (CHATs).

Led by Anton J. Bilchik, MD, chief of the gastrointestinal research program at the Providence Saint John’s Cancer Institute, these groups of professionally trained and supported individuals will act as health promoters and care navigators to educate their neighbors on the importance of colorectal cancer screenings and empower them to take action. They will also stay by the side of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer – from the first day of diagnosis to long into survivorship.


A national program for maximum impact

The Dream Team’s work doesn’t stop at the Los Angeles County borders. This national program is targeting Black, Latino and American Indian communities within three specific zones: Greater Boston, Great Plains Tribal Communities, and of course, Los Angeles.

Nationwide, their goals are far-reaching and bold. They include:

  • Establish and implement comprehensive stool-based colorectal cancer screening programs. These programs will be launched in targeted areas, with hopes to raise screening rates to 80% in those same zones
  • Ensure follow-up colonoscopy for those with abnormal stool test results
  • Foster careers of Black, Latino and American Indian doctors and researchers to build trust, reduce disparities and improve health outcomes for all patients

Learn more about the Dream Teams at SU2C, including the Colorectal Cancer Dream Team.


Find a doctor

If you have questions about colorectal cancer screenings or are ready to schedule your screening appointment, your primary care provider can help. If need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of health care services.

Download the Providence App

We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records, and more. Learn more and download the app.

Related resources

Colorectal cancer rates are going down, except in younger people

Myth-busting colonoscopy: Five reasons it’s not so bad

Am I at risk for colorectal cancer? What can I do to lower my risk?

Shorter treatment duration with new therapy is focus of rectal cancer trial

Colorectal cancer undetectable in patients after participating in immunotherapy study

Q&A: Schedule your screenings

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Cancer Team is committed to bringing you the most up-to-date insights about treatments, prevention, care and support available. We know cancer diagnoses strain you both mentally and physically, and we hope to provide a small piece of hope to you or your loved ones who are fighting the cancer battle with useful and clinically-backed advice.

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