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The recent report that colon cancer screening rates may be leveling off is making its way across the Internet.  We sat down with Stephanie Guiffre, Strategic Alliance and Initiatives Director for the Colon Cancer Alliance and one of the founders of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, to get her take on the issue. 

[caption id="attachment_926" align="alignright" width="220"]Stephanie Guiffre, Colon Cancer Alliance Strategic Alliance and Initiatives Director and one of the founders of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Stephanie Guiffre, Colon Cancer Alliance Strategic Alliance and Initiatives Director and a founder of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.[/caption]

The headline we’ve all been seeing comes from the CDC’s monthly Vital Signs report and includes the following quote:

“Approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population aged 50–75 years were up-to-date with CRC screening in 2012. Previous studies suggest CRC screening rates are increasing less rapidly than in the past.”

The percentage of the population up-to-date with recommended colon cancer screening has increased from 54% in 2002 to 65% in 2010. From this study, it seems that the current rate has remained at the 2010 level – just 65.1%.

This stat is alarming, and stresses why we need to be thinking of new ways to frame the message that screening saves lives. We can’t rely solely on the awareness message any more.

Moving Beyond Awareness: What's Next

Back in early 2000, nobody was talking about colon cancer screening. Medicare had just begun covering colonoscopies and the Colon Cancer Alliance was barely a year old and still struggling to gain momentum.

People didn’t know about this disease, and that’s why I was proud to spearhead the effort to get President Clinton declare March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

This CDC report is telling me that awareness alone is no longer enough. We’re seeing that nearly 80% of people know they need to get screened, yet, 23 million still aren’t. Awareness isn’t going to make up the screening gap. We need to start asking what it will take to get people to take that next step and schedule their test.

To me, the answer lies in a two-fold process.

The first step is getting doctors to talk to their patients about getting a screening test. In the same report, the CDC said the number one reason people did not get screened is because their doctor didn't recommend that they should get a test. This tells me that we have a huge opportunity to more people screened by getting the medical community involved.

Second, we need to educate the public to take charge of their health, understand their risk and start the screening conversation when their doctors don't.

The New Screening Assistance Program

I’m excited to be leading the Colon Cancer Alliance’s new Screening Assistance Program, which will launch in March 2014.

As I've been conducting my stakeholder calls, I have been learning that the main barriers to people getting screened aren’t as much related to transportation and time away from work but more with the cost and access to the screening.  While the Affordable Care Act is supposed to eliminate a lot of the cost barriers, we will still have large group of people who are not insured.

This new program will address one of the top reasons people don’t get screened – financial barriers. By providing financial grants to get screened, the Colon Cancer Alliance will be moving the dial in a positive direction – helping screening rates to rise beyond 2010 levels of 65.1%.


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