Governor honors MCG assistant dean for efforts to battle colon cancer in rural Georgia

A partnership successfully beating colorectal cancer in rural east Georgia was commended by the state’s governor.

Created by a Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University alumnus Koosh Desai, MD, the colorectal screening program, funded with highly-competitive Centers for Disease Control grants, is a partnership of the East Georgia Healthcare Center in Swainsboro, MCG, Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (CORE), AU’s Institute of Public and Preventive Health in the School of Public Health, the Albany Area Primary Health Clinic and Horizons Community Solutions.

“Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in our state. Over 4,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in Georgia. But it is also the most preventable. In fact, screening can prevent 60% of colorectal cancers, and 90% can be cured if detected early,” said Desai, who serves as the medical director for the Georgia Colorectal Cancer Control Program. Desai, a 2016 MCG graduate, is also the assistant campus dean at MCG’s southwest clinical campus in Albany.

The program operates in 13 counties in southeast Georgia and five counties in the southwest corner of the state.

State Rep. Butch Parrish, a Swainsboro-based pharmacist and advocate for rural healthcare, presented the Governor’s Commendation.

Desai noticed a colorectal cancer testing disparity while in residency in Augusta, prompting him to work on training process improvement and provider education to see what could be done to increase the screening rates.

“We were able to get the screening rates up at least another 10%,” Desai said.

After becoming a faculty member for MCG, Desai partnered with Georgia CORE to develop a grant to improve screening a detection in east Georgia. The CDC grant was awarded in 2020 to Georgia CORE, and the team was ready in 2021. Promoted as “Stay Ahead of Colon Cancer,” it is a five-year program and part of CDC’s national ScreenOutCancer initiative.

“We’ve really been working aggressively on training and process improvement, as well as providing colonoscopies and stool-based FIT tests,” Desai said.

“The average screening rate for eligible patients in Georgia is 70%, but when we started the program in 2021, the average screening rate for eligible patients in Southeast Georgia was only 33%,” said Jennie Wren Denmark, CEO of East Georgia Healthcare Center. “Thanks to this program, we’ve increased that rate to 45%.”

The results were life-saving: 6,700 patients were screened in the clinics from 2021-2023, and 77 precancerous colonic growths were removed.

A team lead by Munirul Islam, PhD, an associate professor with the Augusta University School of Public, provided data analytics and evaluation services for the project.

Desai said the partnership will apply to have the grant renewed in 2025.

“The idea is to replicate this process in other places of need,” he said.

Like Love Haha Wow Sad Angry
Written by
Tim Rausch

Tim Rausch is a Communication Strategist in the Dean's Office at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

View all articles
Written by Tim Rausch

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

graphic that says download jag mobile with icon buttons below that say download on app store and download on google play with a picture of a phone