I look at cancer screenings in two important ways.
As a health care executive, who has spent much of my career studying the data on quality health outcomes and understanding the need to reduce costs, I see cancer screenings as an important tool for increasing survival rates while reducing costs.
And as a survivor of kidney cancer, I see early detection as the reason I was here to celebrate the holidays this year with my wife and children.
It’s cheaper to treat cancer early. But it also works better and causes less suffering for the patient. This is truly one of those win-win situations where the right thing to do is also the most affordable.
Early screenings are especially important when it comes to colorectal cancer — the second leading cause of cancer death, according to the American Cancer Society. (And the death rate is higher in Kentucky than it is nationally.)
The 5-year survival rate for colon cancer, when caught early, is 90 percent. Even better, these screenings can prevent the disease from developing at all because polyps can be removed before having a chance to turn cancerous.
But only 4 out of 10 cancers are found early — and barely half of the people who should have regular screenings are actually receiving them.
The American Cancer Society has been working hard to increase these screenings in eastern Kentucky, where too many people are not getting the screenings they should. Last year, PBS NewsHour looked specifically at some of the cultural and practical barriers that make cancer screenings less common in Eastern Kentucky, where it noted the life expectancy was a full five years lower than in other parts of the country.
That story noted that when colon cancer screenings doubled in Kentucky, the death rate from colon cancer dropped by 24 percent. But too many people still aren’t being screened, and the death rate in our state is still too high.
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society launched a “Prevention from the Pulpit” program in Hazard, which worked with local churches to promote the value of cancer screenings. At the same time, they are working to provide training in workplaces so that employers can encourage these life-saving screenings.
WellCare of Kentucky is working closely with the American Cancer Society to implement these programs, including helping to develop the materials needed to assist employers in communicating with employees. We have also provided a $15,000 grant to support this work. Just a couple of years ago, a report from the Kentucky Department of Public Health noted that for $100,000 we could either screen 246 Kentuckians for colon cancer or pay for the treatment of just one case that was diagnosed at a late stage.
Prevention and early detection pays for itself — not just in dollars — but in the health and longevity of loved ones, the holidays spent together, the lives we are able to live more fully, and the time we are able to share with each other.
Bill Jones is the president of WellCare of Kentucky and a kidney cancer survivor.