The American Gastroenterological Association has published eight position statements aimed at reducing the burden of colorectal cancer (CRC).
The evidence-based statements, published in Gastroenterology, call for a national approach to CRC screening, outline the elements of a high-quality screening program, and make clear that payers should cover all costs, from bowel prep through pathology, plus follow-up for high-risk patients.
“There is strong evidence that CRC screening is effective [at reducing CRC incidence and mortality] ... but less than 70% of eligible individuals have been screened,” wrote authors led by David Lieberman, MD, who is on the AGA Executive Committee on the Screening Continuum and affiliated with Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, noting the recent expansion of eligibility to include individuals in the 45- to 49-year age group.
“CRC screening saves lives, but only if people get screened,” Dr. Lieberman said in a press release from the AGA. “Cost sharing is an important barrier to screening, which contributes to racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequities in colorectal cancer outcomes. The full cost of screening – including noninvasive tests and follow-up colonoscopies – should be covered without cost to patients.”
He added: “AGA wishes to collaborate with stakeholders to eliminate obstacles to screening, which disproportionately impact those with low income and lack of insurance.”
Eliminating disparities in screening
Among the position statements, Dr. Lieberman and colleagues first called for “development of a national approach to CRC screening” to patch gaps in access across the United States.
“Systematic outreach occurs infrequently,” they noted. “CRC screening prevalence is much lower among individuals who do not have access to health care due to lack of insurance, do not have a primary care provider, or are part of a medically underserved community.”
According to Dr. Lieberman and colleagues, the AGA is also “working with a broad coalition of stakeholders,” such as the American Cancer Society, payers, patient advocacy groups, and others, to create a “national resource ... focused on ensuring high-quality CRC screening and eliminating barriers to CRC screening.”
Specifically, the coalition will work to collectively tackle “disparities created by social determinants of health, which includes lack of access to screening, transportation, and even work hours and child care.
“The AGA recognizes that moving the needle to achieve a CRC screening participation goal of 80% will take a village,” they wrote.
Elements of high-quality CRC screening
The investigators went on to describe the key features of a high-quality CRC screening program, including “colonoscopy and noninvasive screening options, patient education, outreach, and navigation support.”
Dr. Lieberman and colleagues pointed out that offering more than one type of screening test “acknowledges patient preferences and improves participation.”
Certain noninvasive methods, such as fecal immunochemical testing (FIT), eliminate “important barriers” to screening, they noted, such as the need for special preparation, time off work, and transportation to a medical facility.
For individuals who have high-risk adenomas (HRAs) or advanced sessile serrated lesions (SSLs), screening should be expanded to include follow-up, the investigators added.
“Evidence from a systematic review demonstrates that individuals with HRAs at baseline have a 3- to 4-fold higher risk of incident CRC during follow-up compared with individuals with no adenoma or low-risk adenomas,” they wrote. “There is also evidence that individuals with advanced SSLs have a three= to fourfold higher risk of CRC, compared with individuals with nonadvanced SSLs.”