Doctor Urges Policy, Personal Change For Cancer Screenings

Oct 9, 2015

The chief cancer control officer of the American Cancer Society is encouraging South Dakotans to get tested for colon cancer. National estimates show one in three adults over age 50 is not screened, even though survival chances skyrocket when doctors catch the disease early. Colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death for both men and women in the country.

Doctor Richard Wender with the American Cancer Society says doctors have two effective ways to screen for colon cancer. One is a traditional colonoscopy. Wender says the other is a take-home stool test, and patients need a medical procedure only if the results show microscopic blood.

“In fact, the stool blood test option is a terrific option, and if somebody does a stool blood test every year with colonoscopy only if it’s positive, you’ll prevent the same number of deaths as if you had a colonoscopy once every ten years,” Wender says. “There really are two outstanding options. The best test is the one that actually gets done.”

Wender says inconsistencies in coverage deter people from getting the health care they need. He says Medicare is one example. Wender says people who use the at-home screening and test positive may  need to pay hundreds of dollars for a follow-up colonoscopy co-pay – but the expensive test is completely covered for Medicare patients who don’t use the at-home test first. He says similar public policy needs to change.

Wender says stigma surrounding colorectal cancer is breaking down.

“Having a colonoscopy, doing your prep? It’s now cocktail talk. It’s talk over the dinner table,” Wender says. “So we’ve done a heck of a good job increasing awareness. Now what we have to do is move from awareness to action.”

Wender says that means more people getting tested. He says South Dakota has average screening rates at about 62 percent.

“We’re kind of in the middle in South Dakota for colon cancer screening rates. Your neighbors in Minnesota are at 70 percent, so they’re well ahead. So I don’t mind a little bit of that state competition, a lot of that South Dakota pride.”

Wender says America can achieve an 80 percent screening rate for colon cancer by 2018.