Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month 2014: 7 Highlights to Know

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On February 29, 2000, President Bill Clinton declared March 2000 National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Since then March has been a focal point for medical societies, non-profit organizations, physicians and ambulatory surgery centers in the effort to promote screening and decrease preventable deaths due to colorectal cancer.

This year, President Barack Obama continued the tradition and announced March 2014 as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. During the past few weeks, the gastroenterology field has seen explosion of activity related to colonoscopy screening, patient awareness and plans for future initiatives. Here are a few of the highlights from the many of this year's awareness month efforts.

1. CRC drops 30 percent. A study published in the journal Cancer found that the rate of colorectal cancer among Americans 50 and older has fallen 30 percent in the last decade. In the past 10 years, the percentage of Americans up-to-date on screening recommendations rose 10 percent from 55 to 65 percent. The news was widely covered by major news publications, including The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

2. GI society initiatives. The American Gastroenterological Association, American College of Gastroenterology and American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy worked on a number of collaborative initiatives. On Feb. 26, the three GI societies joined together for a briefing —  Progress and Challenges in Reducing Colorectal Cancer — on Capitol Hill. "This event kicked off the initiative The Value of Colonoscopy: Saving Lives Through Expert Care — a unique partnership of ACG, AGA and ASGE that educates both policymakers and patients on the value of colonoscopy and the gastroenterologists that perform this life-saving procedure," said Harry Sarles Jr., MD, FACG, in a Becker's ASC Review report.

AGA members Joel V. Brill, MD, AGAF, and Carla Ginsburg, MD, AGAF, attended a special White House tour with a number of other colorectal cancer prevention and awareness advocates. The ACG joined with the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable to work towards the new "80 by 2018" goal, which aims to boost the colorectal cancer screening rate to 80 percent by 2018. The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable was co-founded by the American Cancer Society and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. Non-profit work. There are a multitude of non-profit organizations dedicated to colorectal cancer prevention and awareness. Notably, national non-profit Fight Colorectal Cancer hosted its eighth annual advocacy day in Washington, D.C. The three-day event included Call-on Congress, an event on Capitol Hill. Advocates lobbied for:

•    HR 1070: Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act
•    Funding for the CDC Colorectal Cancer Control Program
•    Funding for colorectal cancer research at the National Cancer Institute and Department of Defense

Colon Cancer Alliance, a not-for-profit 501(c) 3, works to spread awareness and boost prevention. Capital Digestive Care, a Washington, D.C.-based physician group, joined with the organization to serve as the founding partner of a Colon Cancer Alliance program in its area. Together the non-profit and physician group will work tougher to boost screening rates among at-risk and underserved communities.

4. Company participation. Medical device companies added their voice to chorus of organizations calling for strengthened awareness and prevention measures. The endoscopy division of FUJIFILM Medical Systems served as a sponsor of the "One Million Strong" initiative hosted by Fight Colorectal Cancer. Olympus partnered with Douglas Rex, MD, on a media tour, sponsored a Colon Cancer Coalition run and hosted an educational event with Steven Lichtenstein, MD.

5. Health system contributions. Large medical providers stepped up to participate in the month's efforts. For example, researchers at Cleveland Clinic developed an online calculator designed to help physicians assess patients' risk for colorectal cancer.  The ColoRectal Cancer Predicted Risk Online calculator was created using data from the Multiethnic Cohort Study, which followed more than 180,000 people. Risk factors taken into account include family history, age, weight and more.

6. ASC industry support. Colonoscopy is a high-volume procedure in the ambulatory surgery center industry. From individual ASCs to state societies, the industry actively contributed to the awareness and prevention month.

United Surgical Partners International-affiliated Parkway Surgery Center in Henderson, Nev., hosted educational events, promoted awareness through social media and stressed to patients the importance of timely screening.

New Jersey Assemblyman and General Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald visited The Endo Center at Voorhees, affiliated with AmSurg, during its third annual National Colon Cancer Screening Day. More than 140 endoscopy centers across the U.S. participated in the screening day, which aims to bring in first-time patients.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam declared March 7 as "Dress in Blue Day" to promote colorectal cancer awareness. To kick off the day, AmSurg partner Kevin Finnegan, MD, presented Governor Haslam with a colon cancer awareness t-shirt.

Physicians Endoscopy announced several of its centers' active participation in the month's activities. The centers shared educational material, worked with local media, reached out to colorectal cancer survivors and communicated with physicians in other specialties to raise awareness. PE centers actively participating include:

•    Berks Center for Digestive Health in Wyomissing, Pa., and Digestive Disease Associates
•    Arizona West Endoscopy Center in Phoenix
•    Endoscopy Center of Robinwood in Hagerstown, Md.
•    Laredo (Texas) Digestive Health Center

The New Jersey Association of Ambulatory Surgery Centers hosted two events to boost screening awareness. One event was held at The Endo Center in Voorhees (N.J.) and the other at The Endoscopy Center of Bergen County in Paramus, N.J.

7. Looking forward. While colorectal cancer awareness and prevention has taken strides over the past several years, advocates are not about to stop pushing for improvement. The GI societies will move forward with the "80 by 2018" goal. Others across the field of gastroenterology will continue to work towards improvement on the colorectal cancer front.

"Better technology, better sedation, better patient awareness, easier patient access and no out-of-pocket cost for screening colonoscopies are all going to continue to contribute to increasing detection and more lives saved," said Barry Tanner, CEO of Physicians Endoscopy, in a Becker's ASC Review report.

More Articles on Gastroenterology:
Advocacy in the Gastroenterology Field: Q&A With AGA President Dr. Anil Rustgi
The Most Exciting Advances in the GI Field: 9 Gastroenterologists Weigh In
Adenoma Detection Rate, Withdrawal Time: Examining Variation in Colonoscopy Quality Over Time

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