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Most people overdue for a colorectal cancer screening are not receiving the recommendation from their doctor to get one


Hospital scene with a nurse, doctor, and patient

In a study released by the American Cancer Society published in Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found that 73% of people overdue for a colorectal cancer screening (FIT test, colonoscopy, etc.) were not provided a recommendation from their doctor to get one. 

“These findings are alarming,” says Dr. Jordan Baeker Bispo, principal scientist, cancer disparity research at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study. “They highlight a major communication gap about colorectal cancer prevention in the clinical setting.”

The methodology was simple. Participants in the study were asked, “In the past 12 months, did a doctor or other health professional recommend that you be tested to look for problems in your colon or rectum?” Respondents answered “yes” or “no.” Of the 5022 people who were actually eligible for screening, over two-thirds answered, “no.” 

The results were even lower for marginalized populations. Black, Hispanic, and Asian adults were at least a third less likely to be recommended for screening as their White counterparts were. The same was true for adults born outside the U.S. Compared to insured adults, uninsured adults overdue for their screening were half as likely to receive a recommendation from their doctor.

These findings are especially concerning as colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

Cancer screenings detect cancer during early stages when it is less dangerous and less costly to treat. The difference in financial burdens between an early diagnosis and a late-stage diagnosis can be dramatic. For employers who pay for healthcare, ensuring their workers get screened is critical to preventing rising healthcare costs. 

Cancer is, after all, the leading driver of healthcare costs for employers.

A robust cancer prevention and screening program can help ensure those who are eligible for a screening are reminded to do so—and then given the means to get it done. When it comes to colorectal cancer, people can get screened in a variety of ways, including an at-home, stool-based FIT test, which may be less intimidating than a colonoscopy.

The American Cancer Society recommends people at average risk for colorectal cancer begin doing annual screenings at age 45. Those at higher-risk may be recommended to start screening earlier than age 45.

The key is communication. If recommended screenings are falling by the wayside between primary care providers and patients, then people need another way to be reminded of their eligibility. Simple, comprehensive cancer prevention and screening programs can fill in access gaps, save money, and save lives.