UW researchers work to improve rural colorectal cancer screenings

Screening for colon cancer is an extremely important method of prevention.
Screening for colon cancer is an extremely important method of prevention.
Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 5:48 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 6:26 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The University of Wisconsin-Madison Carbone Cancer Center is looking at new ways to prevent colon cancer for those living outside city limits.

Colorectal cancer is the second-most deadly form of cancer, but when caught early, it’s easy to prevent.

Thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the American Cancer Society, researchers at the cancer center are looking at the success rate of colon cancer screenings in rural clinics. They’ll do this by looking at more than 200 rural clinics in the upper Midwest as they figure out how to bridge the screening gap.

“We know that there is a significant increase in colon cancer incidents and mortality in rural areas, compared to urban areas,” Dr. Jennifer Weiss, Gastroenterologist and UW Carbone Cancer Researcher said.

By identifying which rural areas are screening 80% of their patients, and which ones are missing the mark.

“What are these really high performing rural clinics doing, are they doing something innovative and new that we can help and translate to these other rural clinics?” Weiss said.

Doctor Maribeth Baker and her staff at Prairie Clinic in Sauk City track their progress every month with a scorecard. They have successfully reached that 80% rate.

“If you are a low-risk patient and it’s not being done for diagnostic purposes, you do have other options besides a colonoscopy,” Baker said. “The difference is it has to be done more frequently and it may not be as sensitive and specific.”

Baker also gives credit to those at-home stool tests, like the Cologuard test and the Fecal immunochemical test (FIT). A negative result on either of those could result in no further testing for the time being.

“A colonoscopy will never become obsolete, because if you have a Cologuard, or a FIT test, you have to follow it up with a colonoscopy to find out why those tests were positive,” Baker said.

It is another part of the goal in Weiss’s research: Education and implementation to save lives.

“I see a lot of colorectal cancers that I know could be prevented if people were getting the recommended screening exams,” Weiss said.

As of 2021, the US Preventative Services Task Force now recommends adults start screening sooner for colorectal cancer at 45-years-old, rather than age 50.

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