Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but 60% of these deaths could be avoided if everyone 50 years or older had regular screening tests. In Kentucky, less than half of individuals over the age of 50 are getting screened with only slightly better scores in Kentuckiana with 56% getting the right screening. That translates into higher-than-national-average incidence and mortality rates in the Commonwealth. Kentucky leads the nation in CRC prevalence and is fourth in the nation for CRC deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data.
Since 2007, the KHC has measured appropriate colorectal cancer screening in Kentuckiana and Kentucky. While we’ve seen gains in screening (from 42% to 56% in Kentuckiana between 2007 and 2015), we still lag behind national levels, and it continues to be an area of focus throughout the Commonwealth.
There are a few ways that an individual can get screened for colorectal cancer. The traditional way is through a colonoscopy, which is done every 10 years, starting at age 50. But there are other – less intensive – methods that can also qualify as appropriate screening, depending on various factors. A flexible sigmoidoscopy, where a narrow tube with a camera is used to look inside the rectum and lower colon, can be done up to four years prior to the measurement year to satisfy screening requirements. Alternatively, a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) test, a test on a stool sample, qualifies if done during the measurement year.
Of course, the appropriate screening method will vary depending on various risk factors, including family history, previous diagnoses, and history of pre-cancerous polyps. It is important to speak to your physician about which method is best for you.
As a partner on the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s Organized Approaches to Increase CRC grant, the KHC distributes annual individual provider and group practice reports throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky on CRC screening rates. We are also working with our network of local employers to provide resources for improving CRC screening rates. A KHC Colorectal Cancer Screening Resource for Employers webpage on the KHC website provides businesses with tools to improve their CRC screening rates.