Project HEAL uses faith-based learning to promote early cancer screening in African American churches
The Community Health Awareness, Messages, and Prevention (CHAMP) lab at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health has had great success in increasing cancer knowledge and screening through Project HEAL, reaching 375 people in 15 African American churches in Prince George’s County from 2015 to 2017.
“But there is always more to be done,” said Dr. Cheryl Knott, founding director of the CHAMP research lab. She and the rest of the lab team are working on expanding the project to reach more individuals.
“Even though the work that we’re doing is important, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need that is out there,” Dr. Knott said.
African-Americans are disproportionately affected by cancer — black men are twice as likely than any other ethnic group to die of prostate cancer, black women succomb to breast cancer more frequently, and both black men and women have higher incidence rates of colorectal cancer.
Though screenings are available for all three cancers, access to quality health care can be a barrier for many in under-served communities. Knott has spent her career studying this disparity, and how to integrate cancer education into communities who already link health and spirituality.
Project HEAL, for Health through Early Awareness through Learning, is a five-year, community-based project funded by the American Cancer Society. The project team has worked with adult African-Americans in faith-based settings to share information about breast, prostate and colorectal cancer screening.
At each church, Project HEAL works to educate and train community health advisors, who lead a series of three workshops where they encourage people to get tested for cancer early, by using spiritual themes and relevant scripture.
Research data indicated that Project HEAL significantly increased participants’ knowledge about breast, prostate and colorectal cancer, as well as their cancer screening behaviors. The gains were sustained over two years.
But, resources will decide how big the project will be in Maryland. Knott hopes to eventually expand the project statewide, and is looking into grants for expansion.
“I’d like to see every faith-based organization that has an interest in health promotion be able to access our training and materials free of charge,” Knott added.