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CPAN Advocacy Chat: Paving the Path for a World Without Colon Cancer


An understandably important issue to the COA Patient Advocacy Network (CPAN), and most other cancer organizations, is cancer screenings. Unfortunately, fear of catching COVID-19 understandably stopped many from getting screened for cancer over the last year, and this worrying trend continues. Recent studies, including one conducted for the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) by Avalere Health, confirm an alarming drop in cancer screening, diagnoses, and treatment.

That is why the non-profits COA and CancerCare partnered to launch “Time to Screen”, a major public awareness campaign to encourage people to take control of their health by getting recommended cancer screenings and helps them locate safe, convenient locations to do so.

The April 2021 Advocacy Chat topic was cancer screenings and the Time to Screen campaign. Guest speakers Marissa Fors, Director of Specialized Programs at CancerCare and Nicolas Ferreyros, Director of Communications at COA, joined Rose Gerber, Director of Advocacy and Education at COA, to discuss the campaign and its importance.

CPAN Advocacy Chats are our regular virtual events where a guest speaker is invited to join us to discuss issues important to advocacy and advocates in a 30-minute webinar. Click here to access a calendar and register for upcoming CPAN events.

The “Time to Screen” Campaign

The Time to Screen campaign is a collaboration between COA and CancerCare. The national public awareness and call to action campaign is designed to remind Americans that it is time to get back to regular cancer screenings.

It’s a simple fact – screening for cancer can save lives. Breast, lung, colon, and other types of cancer can be detected through regular screenings making it easier to treat when cancer is detected in the early stages. Due to the pandemic, many individuals have delayed or canceled screenings to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Because of delayed or missed screenings, new studies predict an explosion of cancer mortality if screenings do not resume soon.

Education & Support in Finding Cancer Screening Locations

The Time to Screen campaign makes it easy for anyone to learn how to schedule an appointment at a convenient location and learn more about the importance of early cancer detection. The campaign informs people that screening facilities are open and providing safe options for getting screened. Community oncology practices and other medical providers follow the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control’s) prevention guidelines to provide a safe, COVID-free environment for screenings, as well as other medical care.

Time to Screen aims to make the scheduling process convenient by finding nearby locations and providing more information, through an educational website and hotline, to those wondering whether a screening is recommended for them. This information is accessible at www.TimeToScreen.org or by calling the CancerCarehotline at 1-855-53-SCREEN (1-855-537-2733).

Addressing a Dangerous Drop in Cancer Screenings During COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases surged during the initial waves of the pandemic, cancer screenings declined rapidly and remain at dangerously low levels. This is deeply concerning because screenings help detect cancer early when it is most treatable.

By April 2020, breast, colon, lung, and prostate screenings dropped 76 percent compared to the previous year. Cancer did not disappear; patients just stopped getting screened for fear of contracting COVID. As COVID came under better control, the number of people being screened improved, and then the second wave hit. By November 2020, these same screenings were still down by 25 percent.

Oncologists are concerned this downward trend will continue unless more Americans follow recommendations to promptly get screened. Community oncologists report that they are already starting to see the traumatic results of delayed or canceled screenings, as cancers caught at later stages require more complex treatments, resulting in higher morbidity, or worse, death.

The Time to Screen Message of Support & Empowerment

The Time to Screen campaign has a three-pronged approach to bring people back to regular screenings:

  • Educate the public on the importance of cancer screenings and taking control of their health care.
  • Provide solutions and make it easy to schedule a cancer screening appointment.
  • Emphasize safety with modified procedures, masking, and social distancing.

Focus groups were held with CPAN cancer advocates and others to learn about their concerns around getting back to screening. These groups revealed that the campaign message should focus on:

  • Empowerment
    • Take control of their health by scheduling screenings.
  • Safety
    • Patients can be safely screened during COVID, avoiding the danger of delayed or missed screenings.
  • Ease
    • Time to Screen makes it easy to find a safe, nearby location for screening.

To get the message out, the Time to Screen campaign is tapping into several important stakeholder groups, including CPAN and CancerCare communities, health care professionals from oncology, primary care, women’s health, and other fields, employers, and media.

Screening Support Services: How the Campaign Hotline Helps

The Time to Screen hotline helps people navigate their health care by addressing fears of exposure and how keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Managed by trained professionals at CancerCare, it supports the message of screening urgency, while observing the CDC guidelines, and provides guidance and assistance for the easiest and safest way to manage their own health care.

The hotline provides the opportunity for dialogue to address and offer support on a range of issues such as insurance, finding in network providers, finding assistance programs for those without insurance, what to expect in a screening, and how to prepare for a screening.

COVID has highlighted barriers and disparities to all health care, including cancer. The hotline acknowledges these factors and offers culturally competent support to access the appropriate cancer care and services. Additionally, the hotline provides direct access to case management for those who need to be screened, the newly diagnosed, and patients in active cancer care.

A Powerful Collaboration Between COA, CPAN & CancerCare

CPAN educates patients, families, and caregivers on the value of community oncology in cancer care. Part of CPAN’s advocacy efforts includes the importance of screenings for early detection and treatment. CancerCare is focused on the importance of screenings and helps patients get screened despite COVID-19 obstacles. Though their goals may differ, the organizations coincide on the importance of screenings.

The COA/CPAN and CancerCare “Time to Screen” collaboration campaign makes it easy for anyone to learn how to schedule an appointment at a convenient location and learn more about the importance of early cancer detection. The campaign provides assistance and educational resources, including a toll-free hotline and website featuring information on screenings.

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