Local authorities offer some ideas
Despite widespread awareness about the importance of cancer screenings, Americans aren’t taking advantage of tests that could save their lives.
According to a report published in the Dec. 27 edition of the online journal Frontiers in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, the number of Americans who have sought cancer screenings has actually declined over the last decade.
The findings in the study, led by Tainya Clarke, an epidemiology research associate at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, are based on data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, which highlighted the health habits of nearly 175,000 Americans from 1997-2010. The report found that most Americans do not meet the recommended screening rates for breast, cervical and prostate cancers.
The report cited several factors that could be contributing to the decline, including the growing number of uninsured nationwide and disagreements among key groups, such as the American Cancer Society and the US Preventative Services Task Force, regarding recommendations for screenings.
Dr. Marissa Howard-McNatt, director of the Breast Care Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said she believes the two factors have indeed been damaging to the public’s overall participation in the screening. She believes raising awareness not only about the importance of screenings, but where and when to get them, could help affect positive change.
“Sometimes people aren’t aware of when they should start getting specific screen tests,” said the Howard Medical School alumna. “If they have a primary care provider, we’ll definitely let them know, but if they don’t they may not know.”
Howard-McNatt, who said mammogram participation is very good locally, emphasized the importance of all cancer screening tests.
“It’s far easier to treat if a patient has an early stage of cancer than if they have an advanced stage of cancer,” she stated. “Especially for cancers like colon, if you detect the cancer early, people can be cured from that and won’t have to die.”
McNatt said a lack of awareness about the options that are available to people who are uninsured may also be negatively impacting the screening rates.
“There are a lot of people in this country who are uninsured and they can’t afford the screenings,” she remarked. “There are organizations out there that do free screenings, but they maybe aren’t aware of that.”
Cancer Services, Inc.’s Julie Lanford called the report’s findings “disturbing but not surprising,” given the economic downturn. “Many people are struggling with unemployment and lack the knowledge about ways to access affordable healthcare,” said Lanford, who serves as the agency’s wellness director. “Therefore, screenings are not accessed as often.”
The study did not address the role of race and ethnicity in the findings, but Lanford said other studies have identified disparities between African Americans and Caucasians with respect to screening rates. Cancer Services, which serves cancer survivors in Forsyth, Davie, Yadkin and Stokes counties, has partnered with churches and barber shops to help raise awareness about the importance of screenings within the black community and periodically helps to coordinate free screenings for those who don’t have access to preventative care, Lanford added.
“We hope that the community continues to recognize that there are ways we all can play a role in reducing the burden of cancer and other life-changing and fatal diseases,” she remarked.
Howard-McNatt said she believes forthcoming federal health care laws may help increase screening rates. The Louisville, Ken.-native said she hopes the trend will take a turn for the better.
“This is what happened over the last 10 years. Hopefully, over the next 10 years people will begin getting their screening,” she declared. “…Screening is important and it definitely saves people’s lives.”
For more information about Cancer Services Inc., visit www.cancerservicesonline.org or call (336) 760-9983.