Tackling the Unequal Burden of Colon Cancer

A Nearly Constant and Deeply Personal Pursuit for Charles R. Rogers
Charles Rogers
Charles R. Rogers, PhD, MPH ’17, is an assistant professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine and a nationally known expert advocate and researcher for colorectal cancer prevention, particularly in Black men. His work earned him the 2021 SPH Alumni Emerging Leader Award.

Charles R. Rogers, PhD, MPH ’17, is from Sanford, NC, and says his motivation to fight colorectal cancer stems from watching his Aunt Joann suffer and eventually die from the disease while he was at the University of Minnesota.

“In 2009, she got really ill, and after being misdiagnosed multiple times, found out that she had stage IV colon cancer,” says Rogers. “Before that, I had never even heard of colon cancer. Her experiences continue to push me to grow in the work that I do. ”

Rogers started his doctorate program at Texas A&M University in 2010 and dove into learning more about colon cancer, its reach, and the cultural differences in how the Black community responds to the disease. He soon discovered that colorectal cancer disproportionately strikes Black men, who then had death rates 52% higher than white men. 

“I learned back in 2011 that Black men may be more likely to ignore the diagnosis so that they can continue to work and support their families or they may go seek five or six second opinions,” says Rogers. “Then, I found out that Black men have the highest chance of being diagnosed with and dying from colon cancer out of everyone — males and females of any race or ethnicity.”

In response, Rogers focused his doctoral work on colon cancer in younger Black men (ages 19-45) and began launching a number of studies, campaigns, and projects aimed at learning what was keeping the Black community from taking advantage of early detection screening for the disease. A few examples of that work include developing a national colon cancer town hall program for PBS, speaking on NPR’s The Takeaway, and creating a three-state intervention study and awareness campaign called #CuttingCRC in partnership with Black barbershops.

“Colon cancer doesn’t stop, so I don’t either. It’s a preventable and treatable disease — nobody should die from it!”

Charles Rogers

Rogers’ degrees in mathematics and statistics, and a health education doctorate, are the foundation of his expertise, but he says skills developed while earning a Public Health Administration & Policy (PHAP) master’s degree from SPH are why he’s so effective in his advocacy work.

“I knew I was doing great work, but I wanted to be able to make a difference in people’s lives by really connecting with them,” says Rogers. “SPH taught me how to communicate convincingly about reducing colorectal cancer disparities, whether it be with politicians about policy and money-related implications, or writing an op-ed in local newspapers that your great-grandma can understand.”

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