By Thomas Sequist, M.D.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and detecting it earlier, when the chances of successful treatment are higher, is key to improving the odds of survival.
When colon cancer is found early and treated, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent. However, less than 40 percent of colon cancers are found early due to low screening rates. Patients often cite lack of motivation and awareness of the need for the screening, as well as reporting that their provider did not recommend it.
So, would an e-mail reminder increase your likelihood to schedule a colonoscopy? According to a recent study by Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates it may.
It’s not surprising when patients miss or delay recommended screenings, particularly when it comes to colon cancer. In an effort to fix this, Harvard Vanguard patients were sent a single e-mail reminder to schedule a colonoscopy with a link to a web-based tool to assess their personal risk of colon cancer. The assessment tool allowed patients to figure out their personal risk of colon cancer by considering factors such as:
· being over the age of 50
· a previous history of colon polyps and family history
· lack of diet and exercise
· heavy alcohol use
Patients were also given the option of sharing the results with their primary care physician. Patients were more likely to be screened 1 month after receiving the email, but this effect was gone by 4 months. This suggests that repeated electronic outreach as part of a regular preventive health program might be very useful.
Colon cancer screening tests, like a colonoscopy, are the best method for early detection and prevention. An annual screening may enable doctors to identify and remove polyps, remove polyps before they become cancer and be able to identify signs of cancer early-on. Beginning at the age of 50, regular screenings are the most effective way to reduce your risk of colon cancer.
We need to learn how to more effectively use e-health to engage patients in their healthcare. However, it’s clear that patients can become more proactive with disease prevention when meaningful and timely information is shared with them.
Dr. Thomas Sequist is a primary care physician at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates has several practice locations in Greater Boston and surrounding areas, including Braintree.