Innovation in Colorectal Cancer: Prevention, Treatment, and Cost of Care

In 1999, Prevent Cancer Foundation, a Project Innovation member, led a group of professional and patient groups, including Colon Cancer Alliance and Fight Colorectal Cancer, to designate March 2000 as the first Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Prior to that designation, there was very little awareness about this type of cancer—particularly around the importance of screening to diagnose it in its earliest stages or even prevent it entirely. Now, flash forward 17 years and we can see how establishing an awareness month has impacted the colorectal cancer conversation.

This innovative approach to awareness has contributed to lower incidence and mortality. Since 1975, overall colorectal cancer incidence has dropped by almost 40% and mortality has fallen by more than half.[1] Also contributing to this decline are innovations in treatment that have resulted in more effective surgical techniques, pre-and-post operative care, and increased reliance on high volume providers. Additionally, targeted therapies have been developed that benefit patients who are facing widespread disease. [2]

Coverage in both public and private insurance for screening and treatment has also improved as a result of increased patient demand, awareness, and advocacy. Yet, the total cost of cancer care continues to grow, resulting in higher cost-sharing, increased out-of-pocket costs, and greater financial burden on patients. A survey of patients diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer between 2008 and 2010 showed that over a third of respondents reported one or more financial hardship despite having health insurance.[3]

National Patient Advocate Foundation (NPAF) and other Project Innovation members are turning their attention to developing innovative approaches to address this growing and significant issue that’s impacting not just people with colorectal cancer, but with all types of cancer. As a community, we are working towards building processes around care coordination, improving provider and patient communication around cost, and developing tools to better identify the financial burden and opportunities to address it.

So despite notable gains in colorectal cancer prevention and treatment, the need for continued innovation to drive utilization of screening, improved treatments, and reduction of the cost burden must continue.

[1] NEJM, H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH and Douglas J, Robertson, MD, MPH, April 26, 2016

[2] NEJM, H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH and Douglas J, Robertson, MD, MPH, April 26, 2016

[3] Shankaran, V., Jolly, S., Blough, D., & Ramsey, S. D. (2012, May 10). Risk Factors for Financial Hardship in Patient Receiving Adjuvant Chemotherapy for Colon Cancer: A Population-Based Exploratory Analysis. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 30(14), 1608-1614.

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