According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer, more formally known as colorectal cancer, is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. And while incidence rates for adults over 50 years old have dropped by about 1% every year for the last 10 years, those under 50 have seen an increase of about 1-2% every year. While doctors and scientists have yet to pinpoint the root of this increase, some of it may be attributed to myths specific to colon cancer that prevent people from taking action. And unfortunately, despite it being quite curable, it is also still one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths today.
The 4 myths of colon cancer:
The only screening option is a colonoscopy and I’d have to do it regularly
I should only be screened if I’m over 50 or at high risk
Screening is expensive
Colon cancer isn’t treatable
We’re here to help debunk these myths and share how one of our partners overcame them, resulting in a healthier workforce.
False - The only screening option is a colonoscopy and I’d have to do it regularly
First and foremost, there are non-invasive screening options available to those 45 and older who are at average risk. Cologuard is an at-home and affordable stool sample kit patients can receive by mail, that, in partnership with their primary care provider, can help patients screen for early detection of colon cancer.
Second, if a colonoscopy is recommended to you due to risk or age, you only need to repeat every 10 years if the test comes back negative. Once a decade isn’t too bad!
It’s also worth noting that early-stage colon cancer often doesn’t present symptoms, so screening is the only reliable way to detect if something is amiss.
False – I should only be screened if I’m over 50 or at high risk
The American Cancer Society recently lowered their age recommendation for colon cancer screenings in those with average risk. Now, they suggest anyone 45 or older should receive screening. If you are at high risk, they suggest screenings even earlier.
False – Screening is expensive
Colon cancer screening tests, including Cologuard and colonoscopies, are covered by Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and many private insurance plans. In fact, the Affordable Care Act requires health plans that start on or after September 23, 2010, to cover these types of screens. If you’re uninsured or your insurance doesn’t cover screening, a Cologuard test can cost $600-$650. And while that is a significant amount of money, screening is significantly less expensive when compared to actual treatment.
Treatment costs for colorectal cancer, as well as short- and long-term disability are far more costly than investment in screening. For example, 1 in 5 colorectal cancer disability claims jump from $8,200 for short term disability, to three times that - over $24,000 - for long-term disability. When it comes to treatment costs, the difference is even more staggering.
For stage 1 colon cancer treatment, you can expect costs at an average of about $35,000. For stage 3, it’s over $71,000 and for stage 5, it is over $100,000.
The cost of screening could be the difference between spending less than $1,000 versus spending tens of thousands of dollars.
False – Colon cancer isn’t treatable
According to recent studies, the 5-year survival rate for stage 1 colon cancer is 90%. Stage 3 is still as high as 72%. Those survival rates are quite promising and reinforce how important screening and early detection are to your prognosis.
How Aisin changed outcomes for their organization
Aisin World Corp. of America is the fifth largest automotive supplier worldwide. Headquartered in Michigan, they have approximately 14,000 employees across the country who work in fields ranging from manufacturing to marketing to R&D.
In 2021, Aisin partnered with Everside to provide onsite health centers that would help improve chronic condition management and health outcomes for their employees. Everside’s proprietary algorithm identified that their eligible population had low colon cancer screening rates when compared to the national average of 71.6%. For example, in Aisin’s Illinois location, the screening rate was just 3.7% and their Indiana location screening rate was 34.5%. As is the case with many across the country, Aisin’s employees were resistant to screening. Whether due to the invasive nature of a colonoscopy, lack of awareness around alternative screening options, or the frustration of having to miss work, eligible Aisin teammates were opting to avoid testing altogether.
Because Everside’s providers understood not just the importance of increasing colon cancer screening rates, but also the population they were treating, they knew that making the process as accessible and convenient as possible was critical. Thus, Cologuard test kits were mailed to approximately 750 eligible members, ages 45-75, who had not been screened and had no contraindications. The results were powerful:
25% of test kits completed and returned
60% negative test kit results (negative screenings mean the patient is compliant and doesn’t need to complete a screening for 3 years)
14% positive test kits results (Everside is now currently working with these patients on further testing and treatment plans)
Illinois - An increase of screens from 3.7% to 31.2%
Indiana - An increase of screens from 34.5% to 55.7%
This jump in screenings proved to be successful for multiple reasons. First, 14% of kits returned with positive results, meaning cancerous or pre-cancerous polyps were detected. These patients are currently working with providers on their specific follow-up plans to ensure they receive proper treatment. The difference in survival rates when colon cancer is detected early is significant (90% for Stage I versus 14% for Stage IV), therefore early detections have the potential to both save lives and reduce healthcare costs.
Everside Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kelly O’Malia, was impressed with the results. “The response to this pilot has been so encouraging. First and foremost, we’ve positively impacted patient lives, which is what we set out to do every day. It is also a great example of the power of our model. When you work closely with your partners, understand their specific population needs, and personalize their care, you get healthcare that truly delivers.”
In addition to the power of early cancer detection in saving lives, there is significant potential costs-saved for Aisin. Everside’s partnership with Cologuard allowed for special, negotiated rates lower than standard pricing; these savings were passed on to the client. In addition, early cancer detection helps save tens of thousands of dollars for employers in insurance claims, disability costs, decreased productivity, and more.
"At Aisin, we care about the health and well-being of our team members because we know a healthier workforce is a happier workforce. We strive for an environment where our team members are fulfilled and feel taken care of and onsite healthcare is a big part of that. Our partnership with Everside helped identify a need in our population to improve colon cancer screening and the results are already speaking for themselves. Not only did we see significant increases in compliance with colon cancer screening, we have also seen individuals taking the appropriate steps to get ahead of the disease as needed. This has not only helped us take better care of our team members, but will help us avoid significant insurance and disability claims costs down the line." - Kim Oliver, Aisin Manager of North American Benefits Administration
Why this matters for your organization
The costs associated with colon cancer, direct or indirect, are significant for not just the patient but their employer as well. Most obvious are the direct costs. Medical treatment for colon cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. According to the National Cancer Institute, disability costs alone related to colorectal cancer cost $150 million every year. For a patient, the medical costs are often coupled with lost wages due to time away from work.
Indirect costs include absenteeism, less productivity, and the residual effects of the psychological impact of such a physically and emotionally draining process.
“The striking increases in screening rates demonstrated by this program illustrate the tremendous value that can be achieved through simple steps, like educating people on why screening is important, and providing evidence-based options that can make screening more accessible. Hopefully more employers will see the value of making this type of investment in the health and wellbeing of their workforce.” - Durado D Brooks, MD, MPH, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Exact Sciences.
At Everside, providing best-in-class healthcare to working Americans is our primary priority. Improving the health and wellbeing of our employees ensures a healthier, more effective workforce. By making care convenient, accessible, and affordable for our patients and clients, along with creating custom programs that benefit specific patient populations, we all reap the rewards of what it means to truly live a life of health.
About Everside Health
Everside Health is one of the largest direct primary care providers in the U.S., operating 380+ health centers in 34 states located at or near the facilities of its employer, union and other benefit sponsor clients, along with virtual services offered in all 50 states. Everside’s patient-focused, care-obsessed, technology-driven approach – which integrates primary, mental and occupational healthcare into one holistic solution – aligns incentives to benefit the patient, the physician and the benefit provider, all while reducing the total cost of care. Patients receive convenient, low- or no-cost in-person and virtual access to their clinical care team, reducing the need for costly ER visits.
Denver-based Everside Health is a two-time Best in KLAS award winner for Employer Sponsored Healthcare Services. For more information, visit www.eversidehealth.com.