Many people who need colon cancer screening are not reminded by doctors.

Many people who need colon cancer screening are not reminded by doctors.

The Importance of Colon Cancer Screening and the Need for Reminders

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is a serious condition that affects many Americans. Unfortunately, a recent study conducted by the American Cancer Society has revealed that a significant number of Americans are behind on recommended colon cancer screenings, and their doctors often fail to remind them about it. This is particularly concerning as colon cancer screening plays a crucial role in the early detection and prevention of the disease. In this article, we will delve into the study’s findings, explore the barriers to colon cancer screening, and discuss potential solutions to improve screening rates.

The study focused on a nationwide sample of over 5,000 Americans who were overdue for colon cancer screening. Shockingly, only about one-quarter of the participants stated that their healthcare provider had advised them to get screened. The disparity was even more significant among Asian, Black, and Hispanic patients, as well as those without insurance or a high school diploma. These findings are disheartening given the importance of colon cancer screening in catching the disease at its most treatable stages or preventing it by removing pre-cancerous growths.

Lead researcher Jordan Baeker Bispo, a principal scientist with the ACS, expressed surprise at the low number of individuals who received a screening recommendation. She noted that clinicians overwhelmingly support colorectal cancer screening, highlighting the magnitude of the problem. One major issue identified is the limited time available during a typical primary care visit, leaving healthcare providers with little opportunity to cover all necessary topics. Dr. Shivan Mehta, a gastroenterologist and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed that time constraints pose a challenge for clinicians.

However, despite the discouraging findings, there is good news. Mehta, who studies health care delivery, emphasized that there are ways to overcome these barriers. He suggested that clinics and health care systems need to play an active role in sending screening reminders to patients. This responsibility should not solely rest on individual doctors. Electronic patient portals and texting can be effective methods of communication, especially for patients without reliable internet access. Additionally, Mehta pointed out that traditional letters should not be discounted, as some patients may consider them more “official.” By using various communication channels, healthcare providers can reach a broader range of patients and increase screening rates.

It is important to note that there are different screening options available for individuals at average risk of colon cancer. These include colonoscopy every 10 years, yearly tests that detect blood in the stool, or DNA stool tests every three years. Despite the availability of these screening methods, just over 40% of eligible Americans were up-to-date with their screenings in 2021, according to federal government figures. The study participants in this research all fell into this category, highlighting the need for improved screening rates.

The study’s results were based on a survey of 5,022 US adults who had undergone a routine checkup in the past year. Alarmingly, the majority of participants had not received a colon cancer screening reminder. Only 27% reported receiving a reminder, and the rates were even lower among people of color: 12% among Asian Americans, 19% among Hispanic Americans, and 22% among Black adults. Mehta suggested that one potential reason for these disparities is that minority patients are more likely to receive primary care in busy, under-resourced clinics.

To address the issue of limited time during primary care appointments, Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, a scientific consultant with the nonprofit Colon Cancer Foundation, highlighted the importance of prompts in electronic health records. These prompts can alert healthcare providers when a screening is overdue, serving as an effective tool to improve screening rates. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that smaller clinics may not have electronic health record systems in place.

In a clinical trial published in 2021, Mehta and his colleagues discovered a tactic that significantly increased colon screening rates at a Philadelphia clinic serving mostly low-income minority patients. They mailed patients an at-home stool test along with a letter explaining the importance of colon cancer screening. Patients also received several text message reminders to complete the test. Although the approach was not perfect, it resulted in a tenfold increase in screening rates compared to those who only received a text message reminder. This type of outreach can alleviate the burden on busy primary care providers and help patients who may not have access to a colonoscopy center.

While colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” for screening, it is essential for providers and patients to remember that stool tests are also a viable option, especially for those who may find them more accessible. By utilizing a combination of effective reminder systems and alternative screening methods, healthcare providers can enhance screening rates and improve outcomes for individuals at risk of colon cancer.

In conclusion, the findings of this study conducted by the American Cancer Society underscore the need for improved screening rates for colon cancer. The disparities observed among different racial and ethnic groups, as well as socio-economic factors, are concerning. However, by implementing reminder systems and utilizing alternative screening methods, healthcare providers can help bridge the gap and ensure more Americans receive timely colon cancer screenings. It is crucial that both healthcare systems and individual doctors take proactive steps to prioritize the health of their patients and reduce the prevalence of this preventable and treatable disease.

More information:

The American Cancer Society provides comprehensive information on colon cancer screening.