Colorectal Screening Gets Under Way

Oregon Public Health pilot program shows that word of mouth is the best way to encourage people to get screened to help prevent colorectal cancer

November 21, 2011 -- Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division and its county health partners launched a new statewide campaign today to increase colorectal cancer screening among Oregonians over age 50 (over 45 for African Americans). Guided by a research finding that people are much more likely to get screened if they are encouraged by someone they know and trust, the campaign takes an innovative approach by empowering already screened men and women to serve as champions and to encourage people they know to get screened.

Clatsop County resident Karen Williams understands first-hand the importance of encouraging people in your life to be screened. Her husband, Jimmy, decided against being screened despite a doctor’s recommendation. Four years later, he was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer and passed away two years later. He was only 56.

“The cancer probably would have been caught and removed with the recommended screening,” said Williams. “He had some shoulder and rib pain but otherwise no symptoms, which is why screening is so crucial. It’s a life lost and I hope his story will help someone take the step to get screened and encourage others in their life to get screened too.”

“We talked to people about what might motivate them to get screened for colorectal cancer,” said Donald Shipley, Oregon Public Health Cancer Control Programs manager. “When they heard from someone who had been screened, and that person reassured them that it wasn’t so bad and was really worth it, that was just what they needed to hear. People who have already been screened have a powerful story to tell.”

Colorectal cancer is the second most deadly form of cancer. Screening, however, can prevent the cancer or catch it early when it’s highly treatable. But only 59 percent of Oregonians are getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer, compared to 80.5 percent for breast cancer screening and 81.7 percent for cervical cancer screening. The campaign is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the goal of the grant is to hit 80 percent screened by 2014.

When colorectal cancer is found early and treated, the five-year relative survival rate is 90 percent. Because screening rates are low, fewer than 40 percent of colorectal cancers are found early.

The campaign includes a new website:, which provides helpful information and resources to:

  • Encourage already screened Oregonians to tell their story and encourage others to be screened;

  • Provide information about screening options to individuals who want to be screened (There are several reliable screening options available. Some cost as little as $25, and all are covered by insurance.)

  • Provide options for insurance coverage and the different health plans available in Oregon; and

  • Sign up for updates on colorectal cancer screening for men and women in Oregon.

The statewide campaign was informed by a 2011, three-month successful pilot project in Clatsop County, a county with one of the highest mortality rates due to colorectal cancer in the state. The pilot included partnerships with local health providers and employers, workshops on colorectal cancer screenings for doctors and their staff, and articles and ads in local media. Ads featured Clatsop County residents who have been screened for colorectal cancer.

During the pilot period, Truman Sasaki, M.D., a surgeon at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, Oregon, and one of the pilot campaign’s participating health care providers, performed 71 more colonoscopies than he had during the same time frame the year before. Almost half of those screened had precancerous polyps removed, and one had cancer and was able to start treatment immediately.

The Oregon Public Health campaign is supported by health and insurance provider networks, healthcare professionals, community-based programs and state-funded grantees across the state. It includes advertising, community partnerships, outreach through healthcare providers and worksite education programs.

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Unfortunately a lot of people who do know the importance of colorectal screening simply can't afford it. With co-pays and deductibles so high, patients' share of this expensive procedure are simply out of reach.