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Public health department emphasizes importance of routine cancer screenings

In tight economic times, many physicians at locations across the state report that patients delay routine cancer screenings due to cost.

The situation has officials at the Utah Department of Health and Utah Cancer Action Network concerned, particularly about colon screening.

"Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States and Utah," said Bronwen Calver, the public health department's comprehensive cancer coordinator. "It's alarming that nearly 45 percent of Utahns age 50 and older have never been screened for it."

An estimated 32,000 or more Utahns ages 50 to 64 do not have any health insurance, explained the state agency.

In 2007, nearly 80 percent of the group in question indicated they had never had a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy or that it had been more than five years since their last screening.

Without insurance, a colonoscopy can cost from $1,000 to $2,000, noted the public health department.

There is currently no program to subsidize the cost of the procedure for low income individuals who lack coverage or are underinsured, according to the public health department.

Utah Cancer Action Network members are currently exploring options to provide free or low-cost colonoscopies for low-income residents.

Colon cancer, found in its earliest stages, has a 90 percent five-year survival rate," pointed out Dr. Joe Eyring, UCAN colon cancer committee chair and colorectal surgeon. "Delaying screening only increases the chances a more advanced cancer will be found later."

Routine colon cancer screening should begin at age 50 with a colonoscopy every 10 years.

There are other screening options, including the once a year fecal occult blood test.

The FOBT is provided free of charge in the privacy of the patient's home by the Utah Department of Health.

There is also the less expensive sigmoidoscopy, which scopes only the lower half of the colon. The procedure is done every five years.

However, the most accurate test is the colonoscopy.

Most colonoscopies are covered by insurance, although a co-pay or deductible may be required.

"Study after study shows that treating colon cancer in its earliest stages not only saves lives, but also saves money," said Calver. "A stage one or two colon cancer may cost $30,000 to treat. But a late stage three or four colon cancer can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars with a low five-year survival rate."

For additional information or to arrange to obtain a free FOBT kit, Carbon County residents may contact the Utah Department of Health resource line at toll-free at 1-888-222-2542.

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