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Mercyhurst partners with UPMC Hamot in innovative Barber ‘Shop Talk’ Project

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On Monday, May 19, 15 barbers will attend a two-hour training session on how to talk with their clients about the high risk of colorectal cancer among African-Americans, symptoms of the cancer and the life-saving benefit of preventive screening.

Experts now advise African-Americans to have their first colonoscopy at age 45 rather than the general population’s recommended 50-year benchmark. African-Americans are being hit with colorectal cancer at a higher rate than all other races and they survive it less than their counterparts.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 50, 000 people are expected to die this year from colorectal cancer and they are twice as likely to be African-American. Screenings could save more than half of those lives.

In response, Mercyhurst University in partnership with UPMC Hamot, competed for and recently received a grant from the PA Department of Health to kick-start an innovative pilot study to educate lay health advocates – barbers. The project, “Shape Up Your Colon,” is being spearheaded by Dr. Linda Rhodes, director of the Hirtzel Institute on Health Education & Aging, situated at Mercyhurst's North East campus.

As Rhodes explains, “Barbershops in the African-American community are a cultural institution and the barber is a trusted, respected confidante to his clientele. Who better to share life-saving information on how to prevent colorectal cancer? Papering the community with brochures just doesn’t cut it.”

The project will launch its “Shape Up Your Colon” campaign during the month of June and hopes to reach hundreds of barbershop clients on the importance of colon health and encourage them to get screened. A “patient navigator” will be contacting clients to give added information and assist them in the logistics of being screened.

Alieu Nyassi, project partner from the Center for Engagement and Inclusion at UPMC Hamot, explains that “Black males are at high-risk of facing end-stage colorectal cancer in large part because they are less likely to be aware of symptoms and pursue preventive screening exams and more likely to lack access to health care. Our center is committed to reversing this trend along with other health disparities experienced by minorities in our region.”