Experts discuss about need for national colorectal cancer screening program at Capitol Hill

On Capitol Hill today, colorectal cancer experts and advocates will gather to promote the establishment of a national colorectal cancer screening program in an effort to save lives. In conjunction with National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), Fight Colorectal Cancer, Olympus, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation will hold a briefing on Capitol Hill with several high-profile speakers, including Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., MPH, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Tonya L. Adams, M.D., a gastroenterologist and colorectal cancer survivor.

"Federal funding and support for colorectal cancer screening and prevention must remain a national policy priority to save lives and to combat this largely preventable disease," said Gregory G. Ginsberg, M.D., FASGE, president-elect, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. "Prevention is the primary goal of colorectal cancer screening, which is accomplished by the identification and removal of polyps, growths in the colon, before they turn into cancer. Screening not only saves lives, but it saves money."

The briefing sponsors are advocating for passage of legislation, the Colorectal Cancer Prevention, Early Detection, and Treatment Act, which would establish a national program under the CDC for colorectal cancer screenings and treatments. The program would target the pre-Medicare population – those 50-64 years of age – who are considered at high-risk for colorectal cancer. The program would give priority to low-income, uninsured and underinsured individuals who do not otherwise have coverage for colorectal cancer screening, diagnostic follow up, and/or treatment. The legislation is sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and in the House by Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Jim McGovern (D-MA).

"While the Affordable Care Act will lower the cost of preventive services like colonoscopies for many Americans, the law will not do anything to increase awareness about the importance of early detection and screening. Today, even among those with health insurance, screening rates for colorectal cancer are much too low – less than half of those who should be screened get screened," said Nancy Roach, chair of Fight Colorectal Cancer's board of directors. "When the national breast and cervical cancer screening program was enacted in the mid-80s, the screening rate for breast cancer was around 29 percent. Today, that rate is close to 80 percent. It is time we made the same headway in the fight against colorectal cancer and enacted a national screening and treatment program for colorectal cancer."

"Olympus has long been a champion of all efforts to fight colorectal cancer," said Olympus Corporation of the Americas President and CEO, F. Mark Gumz. "Prevention is key for this disease and we're heartened that our legislators have recognized this important fact and taken bold steps to ensure all Americans can get screened."

The legislation would expand upon an existing CDC program, the Colorectal Cancer Control Program, which currently provides education and screening programs in 25 states and four tribes. Although the use of colorectal cancer screening has been shown to reduce the incidence of, and deaths from, this disease, utilization rates still lag behind other well accepted preventive services. The CDC reports that if all precancerous polyps were identified and removed before becoming cancerous, estimates show that the number of new colorectal cancer cases could be reduced by 76 to 90 percent and deaths could be reduced by 70 to 90 percent.

"Colon cancer has a five-year survival rate of over 90 percent when diagnosed early, but a survival rate of only 11 percent when diagnosed late," said Christopher W. Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). "Colon cancer screening has been proven to prevent cancer through the detection and removal of premalignant polyps. Less than 20 percent of the uninsured have been properly screened for colorectal cancer, which means that too many Americans are going without this lifesaving screening because they cannot afford it.  This legislation will help stop a cancer that can be prevented in many cases and help to save lives, prevent suffering, and reduce the cost burden of colon cancer on our country."  

"Educating our policymakers about colorectal cancer and the effectiveness of screening is a high priority," said Lisa Hughes, director of policy and advocacy for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.  "Educational efforts, like the Prevent Cancer Super Colon™ exhibit and Congressional briefing, can have a significant impact on the development of legislation and policy that improves access to screening for all individuals."

Following the briefing, guests will meet for a reception featuring the Prevent Cancer Foundation's Super Colon™ exhibit, an 8-foot tall, 20-foot long replica of the human colon that is an interactive educational tool reminding Americans that colorectal cancer is preventable and beatable through proper screening.

SOURCE American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy; American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN); Fight Colorectal Cancer; Olympus; Prevent Cancer Foundation

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