80% by 2018–Fighting Cancer by Increasing Colon Cancer Screenings–Blog by Deb Krause, Vice President Minnesota Health Action Group and Past Chair, American Cancer Society Minnesota State Leadership Board
Since 2000, March has been designated as “Colon Cancer Awareness Month.” To drive measurable increases in screenings and reduce deaths due to colon cancer, the American Cancer Society introduced the “80% by 2018” initiative.
It’s a national effort to raise colon cancer screening rates to 80% by 2018. Health care providers and individuals play a role in improving screening rates, but there is also an important role for employers as well.
Colon Cancer is preventable and treatable—but only if you know you have it
Here are some facts:
- Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. when men and women are combined, yet it can be prevented or detected at an early stage.
- Colon cancer begins with a growth (a polyp) that is not yet cancer. Testing can help your doctor tell whether there is a problem, and some tests, like a colonoscopy, can find polyps before they become cancer. Most people who have polyps removed never get colon cancer.
- In Minnesota, the statewide average for colon cancer screenings is 72%, which ranks #9 nationally.
- 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 (approximately $30,000 for early stage, compared to $120,000 for late stage). These costs are for medical care only and do not quantify the emotional impact of cancer on the individual or the lost workplace productivity.
“As an organization that specializes in providing answers, we know that colon cancer is preventable and treatable when it’s found early,” said Rick Long, President and CEO of Center for Diagnostic Imaging. “That’s why CDI is pleased to join the Minnesota Health Action Group and the American Cancer Society in increasing awareness of recommended health screenings.”
Employers are uniquely positioned to break down barriers to screenings
It begins with understanding: how many employees/dependents are 50 or older? how many are up-to-date in screening? Some employers have been surprised to learn that it is not as high as they might have expected and falls well short of the 80% goal.
Armed with this information, here are ways employers can break down the barriers to screenings:
- EDUCATION: Given the prevalence of high deductible health plans, some employees may be reluctant to get screened due to cost. Basic education regarding coverage of preventive services is a first step.
- FLEXIBILITY: Some employees may shy away from the test based upon what they’ve heard about the unpleasantness of a colonoscopy. However, there are simple, non-invasive, and low cost options. According to Dr. Otis Brawley, the Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society, “We need to put greater emphasis on stool blood testing. The data that show that stool blood testing saves lives are very strong. Results from the Minnesota Colon Cancer Control Study and follow up reports showed stool blood testing is associated with a 35% decrease in (colon cancer mortality) and a 20% decrease in the colon cancer rate.” Further, Dr. Brawley notes that fecal-occult blood testing is cost-effective: “Stool blood testing costs about $30 a year, whereas colonoscopy costs close to $2,000 per procedure.”
- ACCESS: Having easy access to testing can also help increase screening rates. Employers can provide the take home stool tests in combination with a flu vaccine campaign or as part of wellness fairs. Employers with on-site clinics can leverage this resource to address access issues.
- TIME: Employees may forgo a colonoscopy, because they would need to use vacation or PTO. Some progressive employers are beginning to offer a “day off for health”, which allows time away from work for necessary exams and screenings.
Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers prevented through screening, and screening can also find the disease early when it is most treatable. The good news is that we can do better!
Recommended reading and learning opportunities:
- In Minnesota, the statewide average for colon cancer screenings is 72%, which ranks #9 nationally. Yet, there is a wide disparity. The highest performing clinics in the state have a 93% screening rate, while those clinics dealing with underserved populations have single digit to low double digit screening rates. Across the state, 83 clinics currently meet or exceed the 80% goal. Screening rates by clinic are publicly reported at http://www.mnhealthscores.org/clinic-measure-detail/colorectal-cancer-screening/#/results)
- Employers can help increase awareness and screenings by focusing on their own employees and by collaborating with other employers. This article from Wisconsin highlights a company that focused on achieving 80% by 2018 for their employees, as well as underserved communities in the state (see page 12). https://issuu.com/biztimesmedia/docs/030716-digital_upload.
- Tools and resources for the 80% by 2018 initiative, including an employer toolkit, are available at http://nccrt.org/tools/80-percent-by-2018/
- Facts, education, and patient support resources are available from the American Cancer Society at cancer.org
- Information regarding colon cancer awareness month specifically is available at https://www.ccalliance.org/awareness-month/
- The American Cancer Society just released a new study that finds that people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born around 1950, when colorectal cancer risk was lowest. This research adds to growing evidence that colorectal cancer is increasing in people younger than age 55. The risk of colorectal cancer is increasing for every generation born since the 1950s, something Society scientists suspect is due to the complex relationship between obesity, an unhealthy diet, and lack of physical activity. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-finds-sharp-rise-in-colon-cancer-and-rectal-cancer-rates-among-young-adults.html
Deb Krause is Vice President of Minnesota Health Action Group and 2018 chair of the American Cancer Society’s Minnesota/Dakota Area Board.