Catching cancer earlier in Texas is the Moncrief mission


Vantrille Patterson of Allen, right, says receiving a free at-home testing kit for colorectal cancer from UT Southwestern's Moncrief Cancer Institute was "life-changing.” She worked closely with Stacie Miller, RN, Moncrief's Oncology Clinic Manager, to get treatment.

A lump under the arm. Coughing that won’t go away. These can be the first signs of cancer – and a wake-up call that early detection and screening could save your life.

That’s how it worked for Vantrille Patterson of Allen, who was 47 when she first noticed blood in her stool. She had a family history of cancer but no insurance, so a doctor referred her to UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth, which provides free, at-home colorectal cancer screening kits to underinsured and uninsured patients through a grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

The at-home test led to a colonoscopy, which detected cancerous polyps. After a successful surgery, Ms. Patterson, at age 49, is cancer-free.

“There is no testimony without that test,” she said. “I might not even be here, because I didn’t have the know-how or resources to get screened for cancer, much less navigate a cancer diagnosis. It was life-changing.”

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Keith Argenbright, M.D., Director of UT Southwestern's Moncrief Cancer Institute, said CPRIT prevention grants are making an immediate impact on people's lives.

And that has been the primary mission of Fort Worth's Moncrief Cancer Institute since 2007, when it shifted its 50-year focus on radiation therapy to cancer prevention, screenings, and survivor support.

“We saw this as an opportunity to really make a difference,” said Keith Argenbright, M.D., Director of Moncrief Cancer Institute and Professor in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern. “We started small with a breast outreach program and a very small colorectal screening program. And then we just added on geography and different screening sites, bit by bit.”

Today, Moncrief, which is part of the Simmons Cancer Center, offers free screenings for breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancers to rural and medically underserved populations across 67 counties in Texas – almost a third of the state.

Since 2010, Moncrief has screened more than 100,000 people, much of it funded by CPRIT. Including nearly $2.5 million in CPRIT funding awarded in March 2024 to expand its colorectal cancer (CRC) screening program, Moncrief has now received about $50 million in CPRIT dollars, said Dr. Argenbright, part of more than $362 million awarded to UT Southwestern to fund academic research.

“CPRIT has brought a lot of research dollars into the state, which is hugely important, especially five or 10 years down the road,” he said. “The prevention grants are impacting people right now – people who have names and faces and spouses and brothers and sisters. So, it’s a really good story to be able to tell.”

Map of Moncrief Cancer Institute coverage areas for colorectal cancer screenings.
The map shows counties where uninsured and underinsured patients received free cancer screenings from UT Southwestern's Moncrief Cancer Institute.

Saving lives and money

Over the last 10 to 15 years, the Moncrief name – and by extension UT Southwestern – has become synonymous with cancer prevention throughout North Central Texas. A grassroots effort, led by a dedicated and determined community outreach team, has helped Moncrief build a network of rural hospitals and health care providers who regularly refer patients for screenings and follow-up care. In small-town community centers and libraries, physicians’ offices and washeterias, you’ll find posters and educational materials spreading the Moncrief message: Early cancer detection saves lives.

Not coincidentally, it also saves money, said Dr. Argenbright, who is also a Professor in UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health.

“The earlier you diagnose a cancer, the simpler and less expensive it is to treat,” he said. “By detecting cancers earlier, we estimate that between $5 and $6 is saved (by individuals and health systems) for every dollar invested into our program.”

In addition to CPRIT grants, Moncrief receives federal funding through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and local financial support through foundations and organizations such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Mobile clinic expands cancer prevention efforts

Moncrief Cancer Institute's $1 million, 36-foot cancer Mobile Screening Clinic is equipped with the latest medical technologies, including digital 3D mammography and high-speed telemedicine links to cancer experts.

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Cancer screenings on wheels

In mid-March 2024, Moncrief debuted its new Mobile Screening Clinic, a $1 million, 36-foot van that is equipped with the latest medical technologies including 3D mammography. The van was funded by Tarrant County using federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to avoid a possible spike in post-pandemic cancer cases. (Many people delayed or skipped cancer screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

“The Moncrief Mobile Clinic will bring cancer screening services directly into communities that need it the most and provide a proactive measure to combat cancer in Tarrant County,” said Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare. “(It) will ultimately save lives and improve outcomes through early detection and intervention.”

In 2024, the Moncrief team expects to screen at least 10,000 people. The expansion of its colorectal cancer screening program is particularly poignant for Ms. Patterson. Colorectal cancer rates have been rising among younger people, so in May 2021 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) lowered the recommended age to start colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45 – a change that may have saved Ms. Patterson’s life.

“I would have had to wait three years to qualify to get screened. The cancer would have been much worse by then and harder to treat,” she said. “Don’t ignore anything your body is telling you. Go get screened. I’m so grateful I did.

“Honestly, I don’t know how I would have done this without Moncrief."

If you or someone you know would like more information about free cancer screenings, please call 817-288-9970 or visit our website.