Bridging the Colon Cancer Education Gap

States where colon cancer screening and education are promoted have lower death rates

(RxWiki News) Screening for cancer is the first step. Across the country though, there are gaps in the knowledge and understanding to get that step done.

States and communities that adopt more cutting-edge health care practices and provide greater public health information access can lower the number of colon cancer deaths, a new study has found.

"Get screened for colon cancer."

Researchers, led by Andrew Wang, MD, from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, looked at the number of deaths over a 40-year span in US counties from colorectal cancer.

Earlier studies have shown that states with policies that promote health care innovation, and thoroughly educate the public and medical people, has been linked to improved health.

In this study, researchers gathered detailed death records compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics and examined the differences in the number of deaths from county to county.

Their focus was on how well off each county is, and how fast and efficient information was spread through the community.

Researchers left out deaths of non-US citizens and anyone under 35-years old since most colorectal patients are beyond that age.

They found colon cancer deaths decreased in counties with the greatest education, income and wealth over the 40-year period while the number of deaths increased in counties with less of the same factors.

They also found states with a higher rate of health information circulating through the community had a significantly lower number of deaths.

At the same time, states with low diffusion rates had lower declines in the number of deaths.

Dr. Wang says the study "highlights the serious need for a plan to prevent colorectal cancer mortality in lower SES areas."

“It is incumbent on all of us to better inform ourselves and our friends, patients, voters, audiences, and students as to effective ways to prevent disease. We hope that this will provide individuals and groups with the impetus to improve health literacy and reduce mortality regardless of socioeconomic inequalities,” Dr. Wang told dailyRx in an email.

Over the 40-year period, the number of deaths also steadily increased in the counties with less education, income and wealth.

But having more health information available through those communities that are not as well off lessened the blow concerning colon cancer deaths within those communities.

Current methods to spread the wealth of information are "not entirely successful," the authors said. Further, they feel it is important to increase information about the importance of prevention.

"Those in lower SES areas are not benefiting from an available prevention, and diffusion of information plays a role in that process," they said.

"We hope that this pushes people to actively promote these procedures to those who are least likely to get them."

The authors note several limitations with their study. The results look at the communities as a whole may not be applied to individuals, and the codes for the death certificates may be different from year to year since the time period studied covers four decades.

The authors also did not look at race and they may have made conservative estimates of the total number of deaths since they looked at other groupings first.

The study was published in the September issue of The Milbank Quarterly.

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Review Date: 
October 11, 2012