An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure


On a Wednesday afternoon in South Jersey, a large pink van pulled into a Chick-fil-A parking lot. While many customers continued their routine as usual, a few women first walked over to the pink van before going into the restaurant. 

The Dr. Jan Astin Mobile Digital Mammography Van offers free cancer screenings to women in an area with one of the highest overall cancer rates in the country.

This pink van is one of the many efforts across the country to improve access and awareness of cancer screenings. Nearly 40% of men and women will have cancer during their lifetime. While the overall death rate from cancer has declined steadily over the past two decades, cancer remains the second leading cause of mortality in our country. And, it continues to impact some populations more so than others.

In locations where poverty, obesity and smoking are more common, cancer death rates are actually on the rise. Asian Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, American Indians, African Americans/Blacks, and low-income Whites are more likely than the general population to have higher incidence of certain cancers and more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage diseases.

Whether breast cancer, prostate, colorectal, cervical, skin or lung cancer, screening plays a critical factor in identifying cancer early and improving chances of survival.

Colorectal cancer (CRC), for example, is the second leading cause of cancer mortality in the U.S., but many of these deaths could be avoided. In 2013, only 58% of American adults aged 50 to 75 years were up-to-date on screening, but if all recommended adults did receive their routine CRC screening, approximately 60% of these cancer deaths could be eliminated. In fact, one study found increasing screening rates to 80% by 2018 would prevent 277,000 new cases of colon cancer and 203,000 deaths within 20 years.

With the potential to save a life, the screening sounds like a no brainer, but unfortunately many individuals are unaware or unable to seek prevention. Those less likely to participate in the screening include people with lower education and income, and those who lack access to healthcare.

Just as the Dr. Jan Astin Mobile Digital Mammography Van is aiming to increase mammograms, many organizations are taking action to overcome these barriers and promote cancer screening.

To improve CRC screening, one such effort comes from a collaboration between Ride for Life Alaska (RFL), a nonprofit organization that raises funds to fight cancer, and the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center (ANHC), which is Alaska's largest community health center. The two groups joined forces to provide screening and outreach to low-income patients residing in Anchorage. Working with providers, they established free and reduced-fee services for CRC screening, and heavily promoted the screenings through a marketing campaign and educational outreach. CRC screening increased, and more importantly, 24% of screened patients tested positive and received the necessary follow-up procedures as a result.

With improved coordination among providers and community service groups, cancer screening can be improved, and cancer mortality can decline.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” He may have said it referring to fire safety, but it is equally apt for healthcare.

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