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Screening for colorectal cancer: the time is now

As an employer, you are likely trying to balance providing meaningful benefits for your employees—offerings that help keep them healthy and engaged at work—with minimizing spending. It’s not an easy task, and it’s often a challenge to know the ROI on those benefits. The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic added an additional layer of complication for employers, with many organizations redefining their workforce, and many employees wanting or needing to access healthcare differently than they had previously.

However, as an employer you are uniquely positioned to address employee health needs, especially when it comes to filling gaps created by the pandemic. A significant healthcare gap that organizations should not ignore is colorectal cancer screening. Colorectal cancer, or cancer that begins in the colon or rectum, is the second deadliest cancer for men and women combined. It accounts for billions of dollars of healthcare spending, and in many cases, employers are footing the bill. Yet there are convenient, affordable screening solutions available to help identify cancer before it reaches that costly (and deadly) stage.

The effects of the pandemic on routine care

While a few years have passed since the beginning of the pandemic, we are still experiencing its impact, especially when it comes to healthcare. For several reasons, including safety concerns, there was an estimated 70% decrease in doctor’s visits during the pandemic, which led to deferred diagnoses and care.1

What’s more, nearly 1 in 3 of the 67% of American adults who have a chronic condition said their condition worsened since the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, 2 in 5 US adults expressed concern that they may have an undiagnosed health condition.2 These numbers are especially significant for employers, because the majority of employees with a chronic disease first learned of their condition through an employer-sponsored lab-based health screening program.3

What deferred care means for cancer diagnoses

According to Quest Diagnostics Health Trends® research, diagnoses of the most common types of cancer, including colorectal cancer, plummeted by 30% in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued to decline in the following months.4 While a recent study from the American Association of Cancer Research reported that the death rate from cancer has decreased over the last decade, the research on lagging cancer diagnoses has put this progress in the fight against cancer at risk.

This drop in cancer diagnoses suggests that more people may be living with undiagnosed cancer than before the pandemic, with the potential for more advanced disease and worse outcomes, resulting in higher healthcare costs in the future.4 It is essential that individuals get back to routine preventive care to reduce the risk of a resurgence in cancer.

Why should employers focus on colorectal cancer prevention?

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the US. It is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US for men and women, and the second leading cause when those numbers are combined.5 Yet when colorectal cancer is detected at an early stage, before it has spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is approximately 90%. Unfortunately, only about 4 out of 10 colorectal cancers are discovered at this stage.6

The research on the decline in cancer diagnosis rates since the pandemic indicates that fewer people are taking the screening steps necessary to identify colorectal cancer in its early stage. Employers have the unique capability to help fill the gap in care that the pandemic has created when it comes to colorectal cancer screening. Additionally, by focusing on colorectal cancer prevention, employers may see a significant cost savings in healthcare, as total costs of care for colorectal cancer were estimated at over $24 billion a year since 2020.7

Do screening methods other than a colonoscopy really work?

According to the American Cancer Society, adults at average risk should begin regular screening for colorectal cancer at age 45.8 Unfortunately, close to 1 in 3 US adults who should be tested for colorectal cancer have never been screened.6 There are many reasons for this disparity in screening, which has only worsened since the pandemic. Many people are apprehensive about the colonoscopy procedure, while others may not have a primary care provider and may be unaware of their screening options.

Although a colonoscopy is the gold-standard of colorectal cancer screening, the American Cancer Society also recommends the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) as a screening method, if completed every year. A FIT is a water-based test that detects hidden blood found in the stool. If the FIT is positive (blood is detected), the individual will follow up with a medical professional and will likely need to complete a colonoscopy.9 If negative, individuals can continue to complete a FIT screening each year rather than opting for the more invasive colonoscopy.

Improve screening rates with InSure® ONETM

Offering a FIT to eligible employees for colorectal screening is an affordable way employers can help close the care gap and improve screening compliance. With a FIT like InSure ONE, participants receive a kit in the mail to complete a collection from the comfort of home. It’s a convenient, non-invasive test that requires no special preparation. Also, because it is a water-based test, no fecal handling is required.

After completing the collection, the participant follows the instructions to ship the specimen back to the lab in the prepaid, pre-addressed envelope included with the materials. The specimen is processed at the lab, and within 1 week the confidential results are available online. To achieve optimal participation, consider a Direct Mail program that sends a colorectal cancer screening kit to all eligible members of your population, rather than asking employees to order the kits themselves.

Give your employees the option of staying up-to-date on recommended cancer screening by completing a colorectal screening collection at home. This affordable, easy to implement screening tool is one way that employers can combat the effects of the pandemic, decrease the gaps in care that are a result of continued deferred care, and save on healthcare spend.  

Contact us to learn more about convenient colorectal cancer screening options for employees. 

1.       Shifts in healthcare demand, delivery and care during the COVID-19 era. IQVIA Institute. April 2020. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.iqvia.com/insights/the-iqvia-institute/covid-19/shifts-in-healthcare-demand-delivery-and-care-during-the-covid-19-era

2.       Data is from a survey conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Quest Diagnostics November 10-12, 2020 among 2,050 US adults age 18+. To learn more, visit Newsroom.QuestDiagnostics.com or contact MediaContact@QuestDiagnostics.com.

3.       Kaufman HW et al. Blood cholesterol trends 2001-2011 in the United States: analysis of 105 million patient records. PLoS ONE 2011. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063416

4.       Kaufman, H, Chen, Z, Niles, J, et al. New cancer diagnoses still lagging in the United States in second full year of COVID-19 pandemic. JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics. 2022;  volume 6. doi: 10.1200. Accessed February 6, 2023. https://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/CCI.22.00102

5.       https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

6.       https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html

7.       Financial burden of cancer care. National Cancer Institute. April 2022. Accessed February 7 2023. https://progressreport.cancer.gov/after/economic_burden

8.       https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/acs-recommendations.html

9.       https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/screening-tests-used.html

Learn more about at-home colorectal screening from Quest Diagnostics

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