80% by 2018 – An Update on Fighting Cancer by Increasing Colorectal Cancer Screenings-Blog by Deb Krause, Vice President Minnesota Health Action Group and Chair, American Cancer Society Minnesota/Dakota Leadership Board

Since 2000, March has been designated as “National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.” To drive a measurable increase in screenings and reduce deaths due to colorectal (colon) cancer, the American Cancer Society introduced the “80% by 2018” initiative. It’s a national effort to raise colorectal cancer screening rates to 80% by 2018.

Why should employers care?

In my blog last March, I made two key points: 

Colorectal cancer is preventable and treatable—but only if you know you have it.

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., yet it can be prevented or detected at an early stage. There are several screening options available including simple, take home stool tests. Screenings cost less than treatment, and early stage treatment costs less than late stage treatment.

Employers are uniquely positioned to break down barriers to screenings.

Screenings are a covered preventive benefit under health plans today. Yet, there are still many employees and covered family members who do not get the screenings. Employers can improve screening rates by providing education and encouragement, and thus the overall health of their workforce, through easy, low-cost efforts.

You can read the full blog, get more facts about colorectal cancer, and see specific actions that employers can take to reduce barriers and increase screening rates.

Every percentage point increase in screening rates represents about 10,800 more Minnesotans who have been screened.

How are we doing?

Given that it is 2018, a logical question is: Did we get to 80%? The answer is “we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet.” Publicly reported data allows Minnesotans to understand current screening rates and associated costs. Transparency is valuable in ensuring both access and affordability.

The Minnesota statewide average for colorectal cancer screenings is 73%.

This means 73 of 100 adults in Minnesota between ages 50 and 75 who saw a doctor were up-to-date on their colorectal cancer screening tests. The rate has increased nine percentage points since 2011 from 64 percent to 73 percent in 2017, representing over 116,000 more patients being screened for colorectal cancer. We’re making progress. However, screening rates vary significantly, with the highest rates being 90%+ and the lowest rates being under 20%. The lowest rates are attributable to clinics and medical groups that serve diverse populations. It’s clear that we still have work to do, and every one percentage point increase represents about 10,800 more Minnesotans who have been screened. View screening rates for your medical group or clinic here.

“It is good news that we’re making gains in colorectal cancer screening rates for most groups,” said Julie Sonier, president of Minnesota Community Measurement. “However, we still have large disparities between groups that indicate the need for sustained efforts to reduce the gaps.”

While screenings are covered as a preventive benefit, the cost to Minnesotans varies five-fold!

The statewide average colonoscopy cost is $591, with variation from a low of $354 to a high of $1,852. Unfortunately for patients, the highest cost does not directly correlate with the highest quality. So, while improving screening rates is important, we must also focus on controlling health care costs and driving value. View colonoscopy costs for your medical group here.

Cancer remains the number one cause of death in Minnesota. Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers prevented through screening, and screening can also find the disease early when it is most treatable. Whether you are a provider, a policy maker, an employer, or an individual, we each have a role to play. We can save lives by getting screening rates to 80%.

“It is important to realize that colorectal cancer is actually preventable, as well as treatable and beatable when detected early through screening and polyp removal,” says Lisa Belak, marketing and communications manager, Minnesota Gastroenterology. “We strive to take the mystery — and fear — out of colon cancer screenings. We know that by educating patients and their families about test and procedure options, we can contribute to raising colon cancer screening rates to 80 percent in 2018.”

Recommended reading and learning opportunities:

Deb Krause is Vice President of the Minnesota Health Action Group and Chair of the American Cancer Society Minnesota/Dakota Leadership Board.