Stars, activists, physicians and industry professionals came together on the first day of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month for the Countdown to 2018 live broadcast to raise awareness about CRC prevention and screening.
CRC is now the second-leading cause of cancer deaths, and nearly a third of adults between 50 and 75 have not been screened, representing more than 20 million unscreened but eligible individuals. Because screening can prevent CRC, and early detection can improve treatment outcomes, the Countdown to 2018 event focused on supporting the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s goal of increasing the screening rate among eligible adults aged 50 years and older to 80% by 2018.
During the live broadcast, Katie Couric, co-founder of both The Entertainment Industry Foundation’s National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance and Stand Up To Cancer, interviewed Richard Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer for the American Cancer Society, and chair of the NCCRT, about the organization’s mission to increase CRC screening.
“We have an opportunity to save lives and that’s ultimately what we’re committed to doing,” Wender said. “Our models have shown that if we achieve this goal of [80% by 2018], we will prevent over 200,000 deaths from colon cancer by 2030, but if we keep the screening rates up ... that’s over 50 million deaths by end of the century.”
In addition, Wender emphasized three key points that the public should understand about CRC prevention.
First, he said, “when people learn that this is the second leading cause of cancer-related death, that motivates them to act.” Second, while colonoscopy is “a fantastic screening test,” not everyone is able to get one, but for them there are many other “outstanding options,” including CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy), guaiac-based fecal occult blood tests (gFOBT), fecal immunochemical tests (FIT) and stool DNA tests.
“We’re only going to get to 80% if we use them all,” Wender said. “The best test is the one that gets done.”
His third key point was that people of all ages should communicate with their family members about their history of colon cancer or polyps, so they can be screened at a younger age if there is a family history.
Couric also interviewed Anjee Davis, president of Fight Colorectal Cancer, who emphasized the importance of CRC survivors sharing their stories to spread awareness.
“There are over a million survivors in the U.S., and their stories can move people that may be reluctant to be screened,” she said. “This is a preventable disease, and I encourage all survivors to tell their stories.”
Davis added that “social media is key for survivors to tell their stories,” and encouraged them to do so on Twitter using #screeningstory and #80by2018.
Couric also asked Wender about the highly publicized new study recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that found colorectal cancer rates are markedly increasing among young adults, which he characterized as “alarming.”
“If you look at folks born essentially in this modern day generation compared to my generation of 40 years ago, the risk has doubled for colon cancer and gone up by four times for rectal cancer,” he said. “The risk is still higher in older people, but the risk of early-onset is increasing, and it’s increasing at an alarming rate.”
While lifestyle and obesity likely play a role in these higher risks, Wender emphasized that investigators should remain vigilant about doing the necessary research to understand the true causes behind these increasing early-onset CRC rates. In addition, he said the American Cancer Society is revisiting the screening guidelines regarding the appropriate age to begin screening.
Encouragingly, Wender noted that the 80% by 2018 initiative appears to be making a difference.
“When we launched this campaign, the research [showed] colon cancer screening rates plateaued between 2010 and 2013, but [recently] published data [showed] that from ‘13 to ‘15 we’ve gotten off that plateau and nearly 4 million people 50 and over have been screened, translating to approximately 39,000 deaths from colon cancer avoided because of this effort,” he said.
Finally, six honorees were awarded “80% by 2018 National Achievement Awards” during the event, to recognize individuals and organizations who are working to increase CRC screening rates. This year’s honorees included The Great Plains Quality Innovation Network in North Dakota, Surgery on Sunday Louisville Incorporated in Kentucky, the Veterans Health Administration, CL Brumback Primary Care Clinics in Florida, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago (the grand prize winner), and founder of the Blue Hat Foundation, Candace Henley.
“The NCCRT launched the 80% by 2018 campaign in 2014, and today more than 1,300 organizations across the country have pledged to support this public health goal,” according to a press release. – by Adam Leitenberger