Colorectal cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women combined in our country – a fact that’s difficult to accept given that it’s one of a limited number of cancers that can be prevented through screening.
Can we get to 80% screening for colon cancer?
Getting a colonoscopy is no one's favorite activity. Yet, I am reminded just how important getting a routine colonoscopy is when I see that colon cancer will kill an estimated 50,000 people in the U.S. this year. Here's another critical fact: Colon cancer is one of only two cancers that can be completely prevented by screening.
Unfortunately, more than 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. aged 50 and older have not gone for a colorectal cancer screening, as recommended by the American Cancer Society. One of the largest reasons people might skip screenings are the related costs. Thankfully, that financial burden has been reduced for many Americans through public policies including the Affordable Care Act, which improves access by requiring most insurance plans to cover colorectal screening and to provide it at low or no cost to patients.
Still, too few people are getting screened, which is why the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT), a national coalition of groups including the American Cancer Society and ACS CAN that are dedicated to reducing colorectal cancer incidence and mortality, have announced a major new initiative to increase colorectal cancer screening rates to 80 percent by 2018. The groups are using the month of March to recruit additional partners that are dedicated to the goal and to raise public awareness of the preventable nature of this disease. We're happy that President Obama is helping to raise awareness by issuing a proclamation naming March 2014 National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
What is it going to take to reach an 80 percent screening rate? Success will depend on several factors, an important one being advances in public policy.
To increase screening rates, ACS CAN is dedicated to fixing a loophole in Medicare that can create significant financial barriers to screening. Currently, patients with Medicare who receive a screening colonoscopy that also involves the removal of precancerous polyps can be responsible for the copay. This is because under Medicare coding rules, removal of any polyp reclassifies the screening as a therapeutic procedure.
ACS CAN is urging Congress to pass the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act (H.R. 1070), which would correct this oversight and allow Medicare recipients to receive these important screenings without having to pay for the procedure. By removing this financial barrier, Congress would help increase screening rates and reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer.
We're also working to ensure Congress fully funds CDC's Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP), which operates in 25 states and 4 tribes to promote colorectal cancer screenings and provide them to low-income and uninsured people. Since the program's inception in 2009, it has provided screening to nearly 20,000 people, finding 2,917 cases of precancerous polyps and 50 cancers. This program can only continue with adequate funding from Congress, and ACS CAN is making sure that message is heard loud and clear.