Why is doing research on colorectal cancer screening so important?

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths. Each year, about 143,000 adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 52,000 will die from the disease. Early detection saves lives. When colorectal cancer is detected early, the chance of surviving five years is 90%.

If more people were screened regularly, fewer people would die from colorectal cancer. A national survey showed that 41% of adults aged 50 to 75—nearly 35 million people—were not up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening. Screening rates are particularly low for certain groups, such as adults with minimal education, low income, or no health insurance. Rates are also low among recent immigrants and Hispanics. This leads to delayed detection, diagnosis at more advanced stages, and higher morbidity and mortality.

Our journey towards a greater understanding of how to increase colorectal cancer screening in priority populations, began with a 5-year project led by scientists and physicians at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health ResearchGroup Health Research Institute, and OCHIN. This project, STOP CRC, was funded by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund Health Care Systems (HCS) Research Collaboratory program. This trial evaluated the effectiveness of our program in real-life practice conditions. 

How are we trying to raise rates of screening?

By promoting the use of choice, and the use fecal immunochemical testing (FIT)colorectal cancer screening, rates increase and cancers are detected earlier or prevented. While colonoscopy is considered the gold standard by many professional organizations, it may not be optimal for primary screening. Colonoscopy complications are not uncommon, endoscopic capacity is limited, procedure costs are high, access is limited, and many patients prefer alternative tests. For these reasons, we emphasize primary screening using fecal testing, with colonoscopic follow-up for positive tests.

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