WASHINGTON – A federal program set to expire next year gave at least two Baltimore residents a new lease on life, Maryland health officals said.
Out of 273 patients given a colonoscopy as part of the special program, two were found to have colon cancer, said Robert Villanueva, executive director of the Maryland state council on cancer control.
“We’ve found a lot of significant findings that would have otherwise gone undetected,” Villanueva said.
Congressmen and advocacy groups, including Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville, have introduced H.R. 1738 to keep the program going beyond its scheduled termination next year.
“If we get anything past 2008, that’s all gravy,” Villanueva said. “We went into this knowing that it was a three-year project. Our feeling is that we would try to help anyone we could in those three years.”
The program is designed to head off colon cancer before it worsens, specifically targeting the uninsured population.
The Baltimore City region was chosen along with St. Louis, Mo.; all of Nebraska; New York’s Suffolk County, and the city of Seattle as demonstration sites for the program after a national application process, Villanueva said.
Baltimore’s application consisted of five hospitals, Sinai, Union, Harbor, Johns Hopkins and St. Agnes.
The 273 screenings in Baltimore made up 19.6 percent of the total for the program, according to Laura Seeff of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two different types of screening could be selected by the five sites: a take-home fecal occult blood testing kit and a full colonoscopy, Seeff said.
Baltimore chose the colonoscopy, which costs $700 per patient and has a 95 percent sensitivity rate, said Al Dobson, a consultant for the Lewin Group, which collected data on the cost benefits of screening for the American Cancer Society.
The take home kit costs $10 and has a 40 percent sensitivity rate, Dobson said.
Despite the cost of a colonoscopy, Dobson told congressional staffers that the savings of a national program would pay for the Medicare system “about once every 10 years.”
“We decided that the colonoscopy was the way to go,” Villanueva said. “It’s, excuse the expression, one-stop shopping. We do the whole colon and make sure you’re clear.”
Of the 472 total colonoscopies performed at all the national sites in 2007, 55 showed polyps and four came back positive for cancer.
The two cancers found in Baltimore and numerous polyp removals show Villanueva that “we have a tremendous population in Baltimore City that needs to be screened.”
Maryland’s colon cancer death rate is 1.5 percent above the national average of 19.4 from 2000 to 2004, according to the National Cancer Institute.
But the funding for that screening will run out in August 2008, leaving it up to lawmakers to determine the need for a national screening program.
To be eligible for the program, patients must have no insurance, or insurance that would not cover screening, be over 50 years of age and not show any symptoms of colon cancer, Villanueva said.