(BLACK PR WIRE) – A new report shows that an aggressive effort in Delaware to provide African Americans with colorectal cancer screening and treatment eliminated longstanding disparities in survival between blacks and whites with the disease.
The program may offer a model for how other states can help more African Americans access potentially life-saving cancer care.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S., with more than 102,000 new cases diagnosed every year.
Yet it is also very treatable if it is detected at an early stage. In many cases, the cancer can even be prevented by detecting and removing small “pre-cancers” during routine screening tests called colonoscopies.
African Americans are much more likely to develop colorectal cancer, and to die from the disease, than any other racial group in the United States.
While reasons for these disparities aren’t fully understood, the report published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology demonstrates that limited access to health care is one key factor – and that the challenge can be overcome.
The report examined an innovative statewide program created by the Delaware Cancer Consortium, which offered free comprehensive colorectal cancer screening to low-income and un-insured Delaware residents.
For people diagnosed with the disease, the program also covered necessary cancer treatment.
The program also included outreach services to connect people to the free screenings.
Over the first seven years of the program, the researchers saw remarkable results. Statewide screening rates for African Americans over age 50 increased from less than half to nearly three-quarters of residents. (Colonoscopy is routinely recommended for all Americans starting at age 50.)
Researchers also found that the number of new and advanced colorectal cancer cases among African Americans declined dramatically over the course of the program, and became similar to those of whites. Racial disparities in death rates also virtually disappeared over the same time period.
“This study shows that access to screening and treatment is lifesaving and necessary to reverse the disparities that impact so many African Americans with cancer,” said Sandra Swain, MD, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “Other states need to look to Delaware’s example.”
“We can achieve tremendous progress when governments, insurers and providers work together,” said Stephen Grubbs, an oncologist at Christiana Care’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, who led the program.