Cancer screening saves lives and reduces the burden of cancer in the United States. However, gaps in screening programs mean far too many in the US are presenting with late-stage disease or dying from cancers that were preventable or could have been detected at an earlier stage. The socially and economically disadvantaged populations are often at higher risk for cancer due to inherited mutations in cancer susceptibility genes. This burden of cancer takes a significant physical, emotional, and economic toll on the individuals, families, and their communities. Screening gaps further impact and strain our healthcare system and workforce productivity.
In 2020-2021 the President’s Cancer Panel held a series of meetings focusing cancer screening for breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancers. They concluded that there was significant opportunity to implement more effective, equitable screening programs that could potentially accelerate a decline in cancer-related deaths and, potentially, prevent cancer through early detection and treatment of pre-malignant conditions. The work conducted by the Panel and their recommendations have been compiled into a report in 2022 titled Closing Gaps in Cancer Screening: Connecting People, Communities, and Systems to Improve Equity and Access, and is available online.
After reviewing the current state of cancer screening in the United States, the Panel addressed the barriers and developed a set of actionable goals and recommendations. Here are some recommendations made by the Panel:
Goal #1: Improve and align cancer screening communication.
Recommendation 1.1: Develop effective communications about cancer screening that reaches all populations.
- All federal, state, and local government agencies, national advocacy organizations, healthcare systems and community organizations should develop and implement communications campaigns focused on cancer screening.
- Campaigns should emphasize the benefits of early detection and empower people to learn and apply information to make decisions about their health.
Recommendation 1.2: Expand and strengthen National Cancer Roundtables that include a focus on cancer screening.
- National Roundtables should make health equity and alignment of messaging to the community about screening and screening guidelines a priority.
- Roundtable membership should represent the geographic, socioeconomic, and racial/ethnic diversity of the United States to ensure all populations are reached.
Goal #2: Facilitate equitable access to cancer screening
Recommendation 2.1: Provide and sustainably fund community-oriented outreach and support services to promote appropriate screening and follow-up care.
- Healthcare systems and health plans should provide training directly or through partnerships with other organizations to ensure that community health workers have the knowledge and skills needed to do their jobs.
Recommendation 2.2: Increase access to self-sampling for cancer screening.
- Healthcare providers should promote and distribute stool-based tests for colorectal cancer screening, especially for individuals who are hesitant or unable to undergo colonoscopy.
Goal #3: Strengthen workforce collaborations to support cancer screening and risk assessment.
Recommendation 3.1: Empower healthcare team members to support screening.
- Healthcare systems and medical offices should set up systems and processes that allow all members of the healthcare team to promote and implement cancer screening programs or practices.
Recommendation 3.2: Expand access to genetic testing and counseling for risk assessment.
Goal #4: Create health information technology that promotes appropriate cancer risk assessment and screening.
Recommendation 4.1: Create computable versions of cancer screening and risk assessment guidelines.
Recommendation 4.2: Create and deploy effective clinical decision support tools for cancer risk assessment and screening.
The President’s Cancer Panel concluded that by implementing goals and recommendations put forth in their report that cancer screening could be optimized through better communication about cancer risk and screening, enhance access to care, and result in a more efficient application of evidence-based screening guidelines. All stakeholders, healthcare providers, healthcare systems, payors, community and patient advocacy groups, government agencies and individuals are encouraged to work together to close the gaps in cancer screening and ensure that its benefits reach all populations in the United States.
On February 10, 2022 the American College of Surgeons commended the President’s Cancer Panel on their work and issued comments in support of increasing cancer screening in the United States. Dr. Heidi Nelson, Medical Director of the ACoS Cancer Programs, said “Screening is one of our best strategies for detecting cancers early when the disease can be cured. If we find a cancer early, we have more options to treat and cure a patient.”
Accredited cancer programs can use this information to develop community outreach and cancer prevention and screening programs at their local or systems level.
To learn more about the President’s Cancer Panel or to download a copy of the 2022 report on cancer screening, click here.
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