(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Colon cancer screenings plummeted about 80 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. But even before this drop in screening rates, Black patients are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer and are 40% more likely to die of the disease compared with non-hispanic white patients. The first step toward correcting these inequities is to get more Black patients screened and to make those screenings as accessible as possible. That is the goal of a new outreach program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC–James) that is mailing free at-home colon cancer screening tests to Black primary care patients who have not yet had their routine colonoscopy.
“Colorectal cancer is one of the very few cancers that are preventable,” said Dr. Subhankar Chakraborty, a gastroenterologist at OSUCCC–James. “The goal of this campaign is to reduce the disparities in colorectal cancer screening, particularly among Black Americans, and to identify those who may otherwise not know they have either advanced pre-cancerous polyps or colon cancer.”
Known as a FIT kit, this stool-based screening test is taken at home and mailed back to Ohio State for analysis. For patients with an abnormal or concerning result, patient navigators follow up to schedule a colonoscopy so that polyps can be identified, removed and tested. The goal is to help reduce the screening disparity between Black and white patients by half in the program’s first year. To do this, OSUCCC–James is partnering with organizations within the Black community to spread the word and encourage routine screenings.
“By engaging with our community partners and attending events, we are able to speak to people who may be hesitant to get screened and also distribute the at-home screening kits directly to them, overcoming barriers such as cost, transportation and inconvenience,” said Chakraborty. “We estimate that 5 to 10 percent of the tests that are returned to us will be abnormal and need follow-up colonoscopy tests. Each of those patients identified is a potential life saved.”
Although the program is just getting started, experts hope that it will grow rapidly and provide a model for hospitals across the U.S. to effectively close gaps in care and increase routine colon cancer screenings among Black patients. Colon cancer screenings are recommended every ten years for adults with average risk starting at age 45, and sooner for those with a family history or other risk factors.