While many advocacy groups concentrate their efforts on raising awareness or finding a cure for cancer, PCF has always had its focus squarely on prevention and patient education.
The term “colonoscopy” has become something of a synonym for an uncomfortable experience a person wishes to avoid. Yet the procedure was a breakthrough for public health, giving doctors an unmatched tool for the early detection and even prevention of colorectal cancer.
Unfortunately, the benefits of a colonoscopy often aren’t enough to overcome the skittishness of many patients. It’s a problem that has plagued advocacy groups and physicians for many years.
Luckily, there’s another way. Virtual colonoscopies, also known as CT colonography, allow for colorectal cancer screening without the need for an uncomfortable procedure under anesthesia.
“It’s a simple radiological procedure,” said Carolyn Aldigé, president and founder of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. “It visualizes the colon through a radiological procedure as opposed to having to use an invasive optical imaging procedure.”
It’s a win-win, right? Not exactly.
That’s because Medicare, the health insurance program that covers 49 million Americans, doesn’t cover CT colonography. This is despite the fact that several major insurers already cover it, and 20 states require insurers to do so. In terms of cancer prevention, it’s low-hanging fruit, Aldigé said.
“It’s one of the few screening tests that actually can identify pre-cancer,” Aldigé said.
The Prevent Cancer Foundation and a handful of other colorectal cancer care advocacy groups have joined with the American College of Radiology to back federal legislation that would require Medicare to cover the procedure. The legislation was introduced last month and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The fight for greater access to colorectal cancer screenings is indicative of the work PCF has been doing since its founding in 1985. While many advocacy groups concentrate their efforts on raising awareness or finding a cure for cancer, PCF has always had its focus squarely on prevention and patient education.
Thinking back to the early days, Aldigé said she chose that focus in part because it was a neglected area.
“Nobody else was doing it,” she said. “…When I started the foundation 30 years ago, I wasn’t interested in doing what everybody else was doing.”
Since then, tremendous strides have been made in understanding and detecting the disease. In addition to advances in colorectal cancer screening, researchers have also made major strides in the detection and treatment of lung cancer and breast cancer, and developed a vaccine against HPV, among other advances. PCF has helped fund research, education, and advocacy efforts, to the tune of more than $130 million to date.
Still, as the virtual colonoscopy issue illustrates, the challenge isn’t just about advancing the science. It’s also about improving access. Aldigé notes that Washington,
DC has the highest breast cancer mortality rate in the country.
“That’s largely attributable to late diagnosis,” she said. “Which is attributable to the fact that women are not following screening guidelines. It’s an access issue.”
On the prevention side, Aldigé said scientists are learning more and more about the role of exercise, nutrition, and the immune system in cancer prevention.
“We’ve made amazing progress,” she said. But she knows there’s more work to be done.
To learn more about volunteering and other ways to get involved, visit the Advocacy section of PCF’s website.