Reducing cancer disparities is at the heart of the University of Illinois Cancer Center.
The University of Illinois Cancer Center Community Engagement and Health Equity Office (CEHE) works to decrease cancer burden and increase access across the cancer care continuum. Our role is to:
- Build relationships with community partners
- Use community navigation best practices to increase access to cancer screening and cancer care
- Disseminate project outcomes to Cancer Center programs
- Advocate for policy changes that are responsive to the communities we serve
We achieve results through partnerships with UI Health, Mile Square Health Center, and more than 50 community and national organizations. Using an integrated population health and health disparities framework, our outcomes inform University of Illinois Cancer Center programmatic research.
University of Illinois Cancer Center 2021 Outcomes
Breast: Mile Square Accessible Mammogram Outreach and Engagement (Mi-MAMO)
The community engagement office partnered with UI Health, Mile Square Health Center (MSHC), numerous community partners, and the primary funder, the Chicago Department of Health to reduce barriers to services by providing free breast cancer screening services and patient navigation for under-resourced, underinsured, and uninsured women in our catchment area.
From 2017 to 2021, outcomes included:
- 2,380 completed or scheduled screening services (62% uninsured)
- ~40% referrals for diagnostic follow-ups
- 34 patient diagnoses (63% uninsured)
- 10 patient clinical trial enrollments
Cervical: University of Illinois Cancer Screening, Access, Awareness, & Navigation (UI CAAN Cervical)
The community engagement office received grants from Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) and partnered with Humboldt Park Health and The Loretto Hospital to address high rates of cervical cancer and lower rates of cervical cancer screening and prevention in two Chicago West Side communities in our catchment area, Austin and Humboldt Park.
In 2021, UI CAAN Cervical outcomes included:
- 56 community events, engaging 2,464 people
- 113 cervical cancer screenings
- 464 community needs assessments completed through 12 community events
Colorectal: University of Illinois Cancer Screening, Access, Awareness, & Navigation (UI CAAN Colorectal)
The community engagement office received grants from Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) to increase colorectal cancer screening and awareness in two communities in our catchment area, Chicago South Shore and Englewood. The program focuses on under-represented minority populations, including sexual and gender minorities.
UI CAAN Colorectal distributes fecal immunochemical tests (FIT) by partnering with community health workers, barbers, and beauticians to implement a community distribution approach of the tests.
In 2021, UI CAAN Colorectal outcomes included:
- 5,386 community members reached
- 37 provider education sessions engaging community providers in colorectal cancer screening initiatives
- 62 colorectal cancer screenings
Colorectal: Southside Colorectal Cancer Initiative (Mi-CARE)
The community engagement office received grants from the American Cancer Society and collaborated with UI Health, Mile Square Health Center (MSHC), Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF), and other partners to increase colorectal cancer screenings on the Southside of Chicago in our catchment area.
Mi-CARE uses patient navigation to reduce barriers by providing targeted outreach, education, and fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits.
In 2020, Mi-CARE outcomes included:
- 370 community members reached
- 158 FITs dispensed
- 99 FITs returned — 13 of which were positive
- 34 colonoscopies completed
- 20 abnormal colonoscopy results
Lung: Connecting for Lung Health
This collaborative project with CancerCare, Lungevity, Cornell University, and others aimed to reach the public housing population and provide lung cancer education, including smoking cessation.
In 2021, Connecting for Lung Health reached more than 4,000 individuals during 4 virtual events.
The University of Illinois Cancer Center Informs Research
The University of Illinois Cancer Center is a community-focused cancer center. Our community engagement team collaborates with researchers to provide real-world, actionable input about the patients we serve in our catchment area communities.
In 2021, the Community Engagement and Health Equity (CEHE) office received 13 results for research consultations or collaborations for community-engaged research initiatives.
Research consultation/facilitation outcomes included:
- 10 Cancer Center members
- 6 Cancer Prevention & Control
- 3 Translational Oncology
- 1 Cancer Biology
- 3 related to grant applications
- 2 NIH/NCI
- 1 NIH (Other)
- 1 American Cancer Society
- 2 Others (Local, State, Industry)
Dr. Wells and the navigation team changed my life with the smoking cessation support. I believe the program and the support was God-sent to improve my life and the health of my family.
Jonathan Mason, former smoker, speaking at the Nobody Quits Like Chicago town hall about his participation in a smoking cessation program run by the partnership of the University of Illinois Cancer Center and Mile Square Health Center
Take Action at the Cancer Center
Partnerships and Collaborations
The University of Illinois Cancer Center partners with UI Health/Mile Square Health Center, and more than 55 community and national organizations, to increase cancer screening and community engagement.
Become a Partner
We always welcome the opportunity to form new partnerships. Learn about how you can become a partner and work hand-in-hand with the CEHE to further your organization’s mission.
Download our recent reports to learn more about the differences that our partnerships have made in and beyond the communities we serve.
- 2021 Community Outreach, Engagement and Health Equity Annual Report
- 2020 Community Outreach, Engagement and Health Equity Annual Report
- 2019 Annual Report
Christine Jonel Adley
Christine is an award-winning advocate, living on the south side of Chicago, devoted to her work as the Project Coordinator for the YAAS! Grant. Paired with her background and her comprehensive knowledge in patient advocacy, she is committed to promoting health equity and reducing health disparities, in underrepresented communities. She is a public speaker and aspiring author, committed to using her experience to serve as a driving force of change to others.
Leslie Carnahan, PhD, MPH, a health disparities population researcher, is a Research Scientist at the Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity at the University of Illinois Cancer Center and a Research Assistant Professor at the UIC School of Public Health in the Division of Community Health Sciences. Specifically, her work is focused on understanding how the quality, structures, and different levels (community-level, network, and interpersonal) of social factors contribute to differences in survival and quality of life outcomes among cancer survivors and caregivers. She is also engaged in evaluations for a number of cancer prevention and health promotion programs in Illinois. Dr. Carnahan’s research specialties include expertise in quantitative (survival analysis, latent class analysis), qualitative, and mixed methods, program evaluation, and community-engaged research.
Talia Holzman Castellands
Talia Holzman Castellands, MPH is the Young And A Survivor (YAAS!) Project Manager and visiting research specialist at University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a public health professional dedicated to promoting health equity and addressing systemic barriers that create health disparities. As Project Manager, Talia ensures that YAAS! meets its’ goals of reducing disparities and improving quality of life of young breast cancer survivors in underserved communities in Chicago through partnership collaboration to develop a safety net of services tailored to meet the complex medical, psycho-social, and practical needs of young survivors.
Jeanette Santana Gonzalez
Jeanette Santana González is currently a Senior Research Specialist for the University of Illinois Cancer Center, Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity (CEHE). She currently serves as the Project Director for the University of Illinois Cancer Screening; Access; Awareness; Navigation (UI CAAN) project which is a community-focused cancer education, prevention, screening and navigation program aimed at addressing the elevated burden of cancer, specifically cervical and colorectal cancer among marginalized communities in the University of Illinois Cancer Center (UICC) catchment. In her role, Jeanette oversees day to day operation of the project team, partnership development and project administration.
Tamara Hamlish, PhD is a research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a medical anthropologist conducting research on cancer survivorship research, an emphasis on cancer survivor experience and doctor-patient communication. Her research explores the critical role of survivor and co-survivor experiences for addressing disparities in cancer health outcomes and care across the cancer continuum, from prevention and screening to palliative care and hospice. She has also worked on multi-disciplinary teams to build healthcare capacity and workforce development for survivorship care in communities that experience structural and systemic barriers to high quality care.
Le’Chaun J Kendall
Le’Chaun Kendall, MPH is a Research Associate II and Project Coordinator. As a part of the Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity, Ms. Kendall supports an NCI K01 funded grant focused on breast cancer disparities research. Ms. Kendall is also responsible for data collection, analysis techniques, and administrative projects. Le’Chaun has co-authored multiple publications focusing on health disparities among African American.
Nasima A. Mannan, MPH is an experienced public health specialist focusing on health education, health promotion, healthcare access and utilization in underserved communities. Nasima ardently unites policy makers, healthcare funders and providers, and community members in order to promote health equity for the most vulnerable populations. As a project director for multiple community-based cancer screening programs, Nasima develops and implements programs that address social determinants of health while providing access to care to underserved populations. Currently, she is the Senior Research Specialist and Patient Navigation Program Manager at the Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity at the University of Illinois Cancer Center.
Theresa Mobley is currently a Community Health Navigator for the University of Illinois Cancer Center under project UI CAAN (University of Illinois Cancer Screening; Access; Awareness; Navigation). Theresa works with theCancer Center community partners in the Austin Community, primarily The Loretto Hospital to help identify women who are in need of access to care including cervical cancer screenings. Theresa has a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work, with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is also a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) and has worked in the field over 20 yrs. with clients who have Substance Use Disorders.
Maria Olivero is currently a Community Health Navigator for the University of Illinois Cancer Center under project UI CAAN (University of Illinois Cancer Screening; Access; Awareness; Navigation). Maria works with University of Illinois Cancer Center community partners in the Humboldt Park, primarily Norwegian-American Hospital to help identify women who are in need of access to care including cervical cancer screenings. Maria has a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Northeastern Illinois University Chicago. She also holds a certification as a medical interpreter from Cross Cultural Interpreting Services. Maria has worked with community partners in the Latino Community for more than 30 years providing health education and community outreach. Maria’s goal is to try to educate Latinas women about the importance of cervical cancer screenings, a cancer that if detected early, is treatable.
Brenda Soto, MPH, is a clinical research coordinator for the University of Illinois Cancer Center focusing on breast health. She is currently a patient navigator for MI MAMO and a community health worker for IBCCP. Brenda has over 7 years of experience working with the Medicaid population and is passionate about working to reduce health disparities, promote health equity, and improve access to care. She has a Bachelor of Science degree focused in Health Information Management and a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in Health Policy and Administration, both from UIC. She was also inducted into Delta Omega, the national Honor Society for Public Health in May 2022.
Paola Torres is a Clinical Research Coordinator for the University of Illinois Cancer Center with a research concentration on breast, cervical, lung, and colorectal cancer. She is passionate about addressing health disparities and empowering communities with knowledge, expertise, and resources. Paola is also a graduate student in the School of Public Health and received a Bachelor’s degree in Community Health from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a double concentration in Health Education and Promotion & Health Planning and Administration.
Ana Williams, DDS, MHA, MPH is a Senior Research Specialist at the Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity at the University of Illinois Cancer Center. She is an experienced public health practitioner currently working as project manager implementing initiatives and interventions that promote best practices for health education and promotion in cancer prevention. Her passion and commitment to reducing minority health disparities increased after earning a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue her master’s degree in Public Health: Health Policy and Administration at UIC School of Public Health. Her professional goals include addressing the social determinants of health to promote health equity across the most vulnerable populations and communities.