Medical Scaredy-Cat? Fear, Lack Of Knowledge Hamper Cancer Screenings

I recently went to a dermatologist for a full-body skin-cancer screening. The doctor found one pre-cancerous growth, which was removed quickly. The whole visit took about 10 minutes.

I also did one of those at-home colon cancer tests a few months back. A little gross, perhaps, but still much quicker and easier than visiting a doctor.

Now, I’m afraid of many things -- public speaking and root canals sans anesthesia come to mind -- but not of taking care of my health.

Yet two Harris Polls released this week report that more than a quarter of Americans avoid cancer screenings due to fear.

One poll, commissioned by Bayer, finds that 27% of adults would rather not know they have cancer, and that 31% avoid doctor visits due to fear of what they might learn.

Another poll, commissioned by Cologuard maker Exact Sciences, finds that 26% of 45-year-olds would delay or avoid screening for colorectal cancer because of fear they might have cancer, while 24% avoid such screenings due to fear of the process itself. Indeed, one-quarter of respondents said they’d rather get a root canal than a colon cancer screening!

Fear, of course, isn’t the only reason people don’t get screened for cancer.

Bayer, which surveyed 2,079 adults aged 18+ in June, points to lack of knowledge, as shown by such results as: 49% not knowledgeable about prostate cancer; 49% who don’t know that a man’s race impacts his risk for prostate cancer, 38% not very knowledgeable about breast cancer; and 48% unaware that breast density impacts cancer risk.

Exact Sciences’ survey, conducted in March, zeroed in on 1,005 persons exactly 45 years old -- the age at which national guidelines now say colorectal screenings should start -- and found 76% of respondents delaying or avoiding the procedure for at least one reason.

In addition to fear, those reasons include: lack of health insurance, lack of time, lack of awareness of risk factors, lack of recommendation from a healthcare provider, prioritization of other health areas, and the fact that they’re “feeling young and in good health.”

How can those involved with cancer screening overcome fear and all the other factors working against them?

Awareness and education, according to both Exact Sciences and Bayer.

“Advocacy groups, health systems, government agencies and companies need to work together to address screening gaps,” Dr. Paul Limburg, chief medical officer, screening, at Exact Sciences, tells Pharma & Health Insider.

 “This means understanding how different groups are impacted differently and creating solutions to address the barriers,” Limburg says. “Sometimes this means education efforts to increase the urgency to get screened for colorectal cancer. Sometimes it looks like showing up in a specific community to ensure people understand how to access no-cost screening, and sometimes it means demystifying the process and removing stigma around [bowel movements]. The ‘I am 45’ data reinforced that there is no simple ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to reaching the 60 million people who need to be screened.”

“Companies like Bayer have a responsibility to provide resources that increase health education on the importance of understanding disease risks, early disease screenings and preventative health care.” said Sebastian Guth, president, Bayer U.S., in a statement.

Bayer said its efforts include partnerships with patient advocacy groups (e.g., Zero Prostrate Cancer, Target Cancer Foundation, Prostate Cancer Foundation), its Nutrient Gap Initiative, which expands access to vitamins and minerals in underserved communities, and sponsorship of the National Kidney Foundation’s “Are You the 33%?” awareness campaign.

The latter, which focuses on the 33% of American adults at risk for developing kidney disease, launched three years ago with co-sponsorship from the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology.

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