Colorado School of Public Health received $1.9 million to research mental health care options for underserved cancer patients

Lung, head and neck cancer patients are at heightened risk for depression and anxiety, especially when they are un- or under-insured.

Evelinn Borrayo will lead the team from Colorado School of Public Health. (Courtesy of CU Anschutz)
Evelinn Borrayo will lead the team from Colorado School of Public Health. (Courtesy of CU Anschutz)
Evelinn Borrayo will lead the team from Colorado School of Public Health. (Courtesy of CU Anschutz)

The Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz received a $1.9 million grant to increase access to mental health services for needy Coloradans suffering from lung, head and neck cancers.

The grant is part of a $152.8 million fund from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, allocated to research conditions that impose high burdens on patients, caregivers and the overall health care system.

A cancer diagnosis is never easy. But the cancers with the highest psychological toll may be lung cancer, and other head and neck cancers.

Lung Cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer worldwide, and the leading killer of men and women in the United States, according to the American Lung Association.

The five-year survival rate after a lung cancer diagnosis is much lower than other major forms of cancer, and the tendency for tumors to spread to the head and neck of patients can have a severe impact on basic activities, like breathing, eating and swallowing. These impairments tend to contribute to an overall reduction in quality of life, higher frequency of pain and a heightened risk of suicide for lung, head and neck cancer patients.

But mental health support can be helpful to patients and their caretakers.

Especially after initial diagnosis, counseling can mitigate anxiety and depression. Those patients who are un- or under-insured, however, are at even greater risk for psychological distress and even suicide.

“There is a lack of mental health resources for cancer patients and their caregivers, especially in under-served communities and populations,” Evelinn Borrayo, principal investigator and professor of community and behavioral health at the Colorado School of Public Health, said in a statement. She will be leading the research team.

“They may not need a lot of support initially, but we are seeing that they need more evidence-based treatment aimed at decreasing psychological distress the further they get into their treatment regimens,” she added.

Borrayo said the grant will be used to study the gap in mental health care, as well as evaluate methods of intervention that could help provide treatment to these underserved patients.

For three years, she will lead a team from the Colorado School of Public Health’s Latino Policy and Research Center in working with underserved cancer patients and their caretakers at Denver Health, Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver and St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction.

Clinicians, patients, and caregivers from medically underserved populations will help with evaluating the methodology. 

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at caiello@denverite.com or twitter.com/chlobo_ilo.

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