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NIH Panel Concerned about Barriers to Colon Cancer Screenings

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, February 5, 2010

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) State of the Science panel recommended Thursday that healthcare needs to identify better ways to stop colorectal cancer. The panel noted that while guidelines have supported the value of getting screened for colorectal cancer, the disease still remains the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States.

"We recognize that some may find colorectal cancer screening tests to be unpleasant and time consuming. However, we also know that recommended screening strategies reduce colorectal cancer deaths," said Donald Steinwachs, MD, the panel chair, and professor and director of the Health Services Research and Development Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "We need to find ways to encourage more people to get these important tests."

Overall, rates of screening for colorectal cancer have been consistently lower than for other types of cancer—particularly breast and cervical cancer. Although the screening rates among adults 50 or older have increased from 20% to 30% in 1997 to nearly 55% in 2008, the rates are still too low, the panel said.

The panel, meeting at the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, found that the most critical factor associated with screenings were having insurance coverage and access to a regular healthcare provider. The recommendations highlighted the need to remove out of pocket costs for screening tests.

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