Board-Certified Gastroenterologist Explains Why Colon Cancer Screening Participation Lags Behind that of Breast Cancer Screening
DALLAS, Oct. 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- With October being national breast cancer awareness month, it's difficult to not be constantly reminded of "thinking pink" with the great job the organizations and survivors do in promoting this awareness message. That awareness has been exponentially increased with the celebrity and sports relationships as well. For example, professional and college football players are wearing pink equipment during nationally televised games to raise awareness in October.
In the U.S., 72% of women report being up-to-date on their breast health screenings while only a little more than half could say the same about colon cancer screenings.  It's a shocking statistic given the success we are having with colorectal cancer screenings and being able to remove precancerous polyps before they turn into cancer. On average, more than 140,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with colorectal cancer annually and over 50,000 die because of this cancer each year.
Some of this variance can be attributed to the national breast cancer awareness month campaign starting in 1985, while the colon cancer awareness month campaign was not initiated until 2000. In addition to the 15-year head start, breast cancer has been made more accessible to the medically underserved in the U.S. through programs like the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both assist with free screenings or matching funds to lower the cost of getting screened for breast cancer.
Barriers to Colorectal Screening
According to Matthew Eidem, M.D., who is a board-certified gastroenterologist in Plano TX and a member of the largest gastroenterology group (Digestive Health Associates of Texas) in North America, it's important to continually stress the importance of health maintenance roles such as colon cancer screening to patients. However, there is several challenges physicians face in getting the colon cancer screening participation rates higher. A few of the challenges are:
- Patient awareness and education
- Varying insurance reimbursements rates amongst states in the U.S.
- Availability of programs to educate and financially assist the medically underserved
"As physicians we need to increase our patients' awareness to practicing preventive health care, especially for diseases like colon cancer, where early detection can literally be the difference between life and death," said Plano TX gastroenterologist Matthew Eidem, MD. Adhering to the screening recommendations of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) can improve a patient's prognosis and lead to increased treatment options for people who are diagnosed.
Opportunities to Increase Colon Cancer Screening Participation
In February 2013, the federal government issued an important clarification on preventive screening benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Patients with private insurance will no longer be liable for cost sharing when a pre-cancerous colon polyp is removed during screening colonoscopy. This ensures colorectal cancer screening is available to privately insured patients at no additional cost, as intended by the new healthcare law. While the specifics of the Affordable Care Act are slowly emerging, this legislation may lead to similar programs developed for breast cancer screening and increase participation rates.
In addition to new legislation and needed government programs to assist with increasing colon cancer screening participation rates, there are initiatives in place currently that are leading the way towards this goal.
- Availability of Open Access Colonoscopy
- Patient education from primary care physicians
- Direct patient communications both reminding and educating them on the benefits of getting screened at the suggested AGA guidelines
It's hopeful that collectively between the supporters of the Colon Cancer Screening awareness message we can significantly increase participation rates in the U.S., and make awareness of colorectal cancer more main stream. Campaigns such as the CDC's "Screen for Life" and Colon Cancer Alliance's "Go Blue" are definitely a step in the right direction. However, it will take a combined effort from the medical community, cancer organizations and governmental support to achieve the awareness needed to reduce the death rate of colon cancer in the U.S.
Click here to learn who should be screened for colorectal cancer and when.
Read more news from Matthew Eidem, M.D.
SOURCE Matthew Eidem, MD