WASHINGTON – Maryland’s uninsured population may have found an ally against colon cancer.
A bill co-sponsored by Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville, would create a national program for colon cancer screening, treatment and outreach to the uninsured.
The bill, H.R. 1738, targets underinsured and uninsured adults between the ages of 50 and 64 and those who are under 50 with a high risk of colon cancer.
Maryland’s rate of 20.9 deaths per 100,000 from 2000 to 2004 topped the national average of 19.4.
Maryland has been making a push to slow colon cancer and is now one of 15 states providing coverage for the full range of colon cancer screening tests.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has taken steps to lower colon cancer rates through the Cigarette Restitution Fund, which provides money for screening.
“The goal is to target the minority population and those that may have been underserved,” said David Mann, DHMH epidemiologist.
According to data from the American Cancer Society, only 26.1 percent of uninsured Marylanders were screened for colon cancer in 2004, the last year the data was collected.
The disease is curable, said Duardo Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancers at ACS, but only if it is caught early. Brooks spoke at an advocacy briefing Friday for the bill hosted by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
If the cancer is contained, the survival rate can be as high as 90 percent, Brooks said. If the cancer spreads, the patient survives only 10 percent of the time.
“There are options (for screening), a lot of options,” Brooks said. “All of which can make a difference.”
Providing a national colon cancer screening program would save money as well as lives, said Allen Dobson, a consultant for the Lewin Group, which has collected data on colon cancer for the society.
The program would repay its costs to Medicare every 10 years, saving the program $15.7 billion in its first 15 years and “probably double that” in 30 years, he said.
Maryland’s colon cancer mortality rate has dropped since 1999, when the rate was 22.5 deaths per 100,000, to 21 deaths per 100,000 in 2002.
“We’ve had a modest decline in colorectal cancer mortality,” Mann said.
Maryland is above the national average Mann said, in part because of the high cancer rate among minorities.
“One of the things that tends to make Maryland look higher is that we tend to blend in more minorities to our population,” Mann said. Separating the racial groups would provide a better picture of the cancer rate, he said.
The cancer rate difference between whites and African Americans has been cut in half over the last five years, Mann said, from a 45 percent difference in 2000 to a 22 percent difference in 2005.
The bill was introduced in the House in March, but has not come up for debate.