UCF-HCA Resident Identifies Geographical Links to Colon Cancer, Earns International Research Honor

A UCF-HCA Healthcare resident received international honors for his research showing that southern U.S. states — which also have the nation’s highest obesity rates — also have the highest incidence of colon cancer.

Raghav Bassi, chief internal medicine resident at the UCF-HCA residency at HCA Florida North Florida Hospital in Gainesville, Florida, found the correlation using HCA’s expansive, nationwide research data base of its patients. An analysis of 289,196 HCA colon cancer patients across the United States found that those living in southern states had a higher incidence of the disease than those living in the Midwest or Northeast. And states with the highest incidence of colon cancer also had the nation’s highest obesity rates.

Raghav Bassi’s findings are especially alarming as obesity rates continue to increase, with estimates that 50% of the U.S. population may be obese by 2030.

The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) honored Bassi with its Presidential Award for his poster presentation at the ACG’s annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada. He also received a second award for outstanding poster presentation.

While at the conference, he discussed his findings with University of Tennessee researchers, who have found that colon cancer rates are increasing in young people — and again attributed the increases to obesity and America’s heavy consumption of highly processed, high-fat, high-sugar and fast foods. These findings, Bassi says, are especially alarming as obesity rates continue to increase, with estimates that 50% of the U.S. population may be obese by 2030.

“What’s alarming is that colon cancer rates are going up — including in young people — because of lifestyle choices,” he says. “We are all looking for food that’s fast and easy. But just because it’s fast and easy doesn’t mean it’s not doing real harm to your health.”

The World Health Organization estimates 1.8 million new cases of colon cancer a year. Risk factors include age, obesity, diets high in red and processed meats, smoking, excessive drinking and physical inactivity.

In examining state-by-state colon cancer rates, Bassi’s study found the exception to the obesity-colon cancer connection was Colorado, which leads the nation in colon cancer rates. Bassi and his HCA research colleagues aim to do further studies to identify what factors other than obesity may be influencing Colorado’s numbers. Mississippi and Missouri were second and third nationally in colon cancer rates. The study noted that obesity rates in Mississippi are the second highest in the nation, with 37.3% of the state’s population diagnosed as obese. Missouri’s obesity rate is similar — 37.3% according to the study.

The UCF-HCA Graduate Medical Education (GME) consortium is one of the fastest-growing in Florida, training almost 600 residents and fellows in programs from Greater Orlando to Pensacola to help address the physician shortage. UCF began its first residency in internal medicine in 2014 with HCA Healthcare and the Orlando VA Medical Center. Today, it has programs in high-need specialties including surgery, psychiatry, OB-GYN, geriatrics, emergency medicine, rheumatology and endocrinology.

The UCF-HCA Graduate Medical Education consortium is one of the fastest-growing in Florida, training almost 600 residents and fellows to help address the physician shortage.

The UCF-HCA programs emphasize research as an integral part of training young physicians. Matthew Calestino, a UCF-HCA residency attending physician and mentor, participated in the colon cancer study and calls research by residents “a game changer.” Scientific studies allow residents and fellows to advance medical knowledge, Calestino and Bassi says, helping them stay current on the latest findings that can help their patients. Understanding and conducting research also trains young physicians to better critically analyze new discoveries and data, according to them.

As one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, HCA Healthcare has 182 hospitals and approximately 2,300 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding emergency rooms, urgent care centers and physician clinics in 20 states and the United Kingdom. HCA Healthcare provides 37 million patient encounters a year in those facilities. Data from that care provides extensive opportunities for research into health trends, health disparities and the most successful care protocols. As the UCF-HCA GME consortium has grown, so has the infrastructure to support resident and fellow research efforts, and Calestino applauded the leadership of Katy Robinson, division director of GME Research for HCA’s North Florida Division, in increasing opportunities and support for such scientific studies.

Bassi became interested in gastroenterology as a medical student at St. George’s University School of Medicine as he watched a classmate struggle with ulcerative colitis. He was selected as one of the medical school’s global scholars, which allowed him to study and conduct research in the United Kingdom, Grenada and New York City. He hopes to enter a gastroenterology fellowship after he completes his year as chief resident. Bassi says the field offers opportunities to develop and use new therapies, and provide both clinical care and surgical interventions. He says his research experience has allowed him to meet other physician scientists and expand his knowledge to help his patients. It has also allowed him to spread the word about UCF-HCA’s young GME programs.

“As a young program we aren’t as well known,” he says. “This experience shows we can compete with the bigger programs. Research allows me to connect with other members of the scientific community, get life-changing lessons and bring those lessons back with me when I return to UCF Gainesville.”

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