This post was contributed by Judy Yee, MD, chair of the American College of Radiology Colon Cancer Committee.
March is National Colorectal Cancer (CRC) Awareness Month. And while CRC deaths are declining, shocking racial and ethnic disparities remain.
Latinos living in the United States are more likely to develop – and die from – this disease than those in many Central and South American countries. Black men and women are at least 41 percent more likely to die from CRC than whites. These populations are less likely to get screened, and as such, their cancers are often found at a later stage.
CT colonography (CTC), or virtual colonoscopy, has been shown to greatly increase screening rates. It is as accurate as standard colonoscopy in most people. The virtual exam can also overcome cultural stigmas, increase screening and reduce unnecessary deaths.
The ACR is working with minority health care advocates, other medical societies and patient advocacy groups to make that happen.
Thirty-six states now require that insurance policies sold in their state cover virtual colonoscopy (up from 24 a year ago). The ACR and others worked hard to educate the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) on the merits of CTC. The USPSTF has since included CTC in their list of recognized CRC screening tests.
That triggered a provision in the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers who take part in federal exchanges to cover the exam. CIGNA, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and a growing list of insurers cover these tests irrespective of ACA requirements.
We are currently working with other groups to gain Medicare coverage for CT colonography. Screening those on Medicare with virtual colonoscopy may cost nearly a third less than with standard colonoscopy, but the screening is not yet covered by Medicare.
Gains are being made, but we’re not there yet. Patients are steadily gaining access to this American Cancer Society-recommended (and less-invasive) screening option. We just have to keep moving forward.
I invite you to check out the ACR Colon Cancer Resources. You can use these to educate patients and referring providers on CT colonography.
For average risk patients – who just are not going to get a standard test – CTC is a great option that could save their lives.
- Do you perform CT Colonography at your site?
- If not, would you start doing it if screening CTC was covered by Medicare?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below and join the discussion on Engage (login required).