From the Harford County Health Department:
Between 2006 and 2010, Maryland’s rate of colorectal cancer deaths declined at a rate of 4.6% per year, according to Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene 2013 Cancer Data published in December 2013. Also, ranking tenth in the entire nation in 2012, Maryland has one of the highest screening rates for colorectal cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This was a significant milestone in the battle against colorectal cancer in Maryland,” Harford County Health Officer, Susan Kelly states. “We believe that ongoing local, grass-roots efforts and the state-wide activities to increase screening contributed to these declines.”
Maryland is one of a handful of states that used funding from the states’ Master Settlement with tobacco companies to create a Cigarette Restitution Fund (CRF). A portion of the CRF is used to provide preventative services to reduce cancer mortality and disparities among Marylanders, including educational and outreach services as well as cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment to individuals who meet certain income, residence, and health insurance eligibility requirements.
During the decade spanning 2003-2013, the Harford County Colorectal Cancer Screening Program provided 686 colorectal cancer screenings and educated 22,000 individuals as well as 1,445 health care providers using funding from the CRF. “Yet, about 30% of eligible Marylanders still needed to be screened for colorectal cancer,” reports Susan Twigg, Harford’s CRF Cancer Program Coordinator. “We want to ensure that all individuals are aware that private health insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare help pay for age-appropriate colorectal cancer screening in Maryland.”
The major risk factor for colorectal cancer is age. More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people age 50 years and over. The American Cancer Society recommends screening for all people ages 50 years and over, and before 50 years of age for people with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps, and individuals with a history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s colitis). Women who are diagnosed with cancer of the ovary or uterus (womb) before the age of 50 also need to start colorectal cancer screening earlier.
The Health Officer also stressed that health care providers, especially primary care physicians, play a critical role in increasing colorectal cancer screening rates by discussing its importance and recommending screening to their eligible patients. Says Ms. Kelly, “Cancers of the colon and rectum are almost entirely preventable since adenomatous polyps (small growths in the large intestine), which may become cancerous, can be removed. Also, screening for colorectal cancer helps spot cancers in their earliest stages when treatment is most successful. When caught early, 90 percent of colon cancers are treatable.”
Several methods are available to screen for colorectal cancer. During the most common procedure called colonoscopy, doctors use a flexible tube with a light to look inside the large intestines to find cancer or to find and remove polyps before they can turn into cancer. Another widely used method that can be done simply in your own home is the fecal occult blood test (or FOBT) that can check for blood in stool samples that can’t be seen with the naked eye, but that can indicate the need for follow-up colonoscopy. “Don’t wait for your doctor to speak with you. Ask your doctor if you should be tested for colorectal cancer,” continues Ms. Twigg.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Maryland. The American Cancer Society projects approximately 96,830 new cases and 50,310 deaths will occur in 2014 in the United States. In Maryland, 2,500 new cases and 890 deaths are projected for 2014. Compared to Whites, African Americans are more likely to develop and die from colorectal cancer.
For more information about colorectal cancer and the availability of colorectal cancer screening for qualifying individuals, the public can contact the Harford County Health Department’s Office of Cancer Prevention Services at 410-612-1780 or visit its website at www.harfordcountyhealth.com .