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Heinrich, Wicker, Padilla Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Access to Colorectal Cancer Screenings

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced the bipartisan Colorectal Cancer Detection Act, legislation to increase access to colorectal cancer screenings. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States, and is the second most common cause of cancer deaths when numbers for men and women are combined. According to the American Cancer Society, it's expected to cause roughly 52,550 deaths in 2023. However, the death rate of colorectal cancer has been dropping for several decades because of increased access to invasive screenings.
The Colorectal Cancer Detection Act would increase access to blood-based screening tests to allow people to understand if they are at risk of colorectal cancer before they scheduling a more invasive colonoscopy. Specifically, the bill would place all Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved blood-based screening tests on equal footing with other screening methods and authorize reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Currently, the lack of CMS reimbursement for blood-based screenings is preventing people from accessing all screening options for colorectal cancer.
“Colorectal cancer is one of the most common diseases in New Mexico, but is actually preventable and treatable when found early. Increasing colorectal cancer screening rates helps with early detection tools and can save lives,” said Heinrich. “This bipartisan legislation would make it easier for people to access screening options, like non-evasive blood-based screening tests, helping more people identify the signs of colorectal cancer before it’s too late.”
“Colorectal cancer is largely preventable, yet still remains the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States,” said Wicker. “This legislation would increase screening options for Medicare beneficiaries, helping to improve detection among an otherwise unscreened population.”
“Colon cancer disproportionately impacts communities of color, but we know it is more treatable when detected early. That’s why improving access to colon cancer screenings is so critical,” said Padilla. “Simply put, the Colorectal Cancer Detection Act will save lives by making it easier to access colon cancer screenings for Californians and everyone across the country.”
To continue bringing down the death rate for colorectal cancer and avoiding preventable deaths, the barriers that are preventing 1 in 3 people in the United States who should get tested for colorectal cancer from being screened must be addressed. These barriers include a lack of knowledge that regular testing could save their lives from this disease and cost and health insurance coverage issues. These barriers are often exacerbated in rural areas where physical access to facilities that offer screening can also be a deterrent.
The Colorectal Cancer Detection Act seeks to authorize blood-based screening tests for CMS reimbursement and remove this potential barrier to screening. By increasing access to, and participation in, screening programs, thousands of colorectal cancers which may otherwise go undetected could be found and lives saved.
Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer. Nearly two-thirds of the screening-eligible population currently participates in regular screening for colorectal cancer. Screening is recommended starting at age 45 for people who are not at increased risk of colorectal cancer, and there are several different screening options available. When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage before it has spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent. But only about two out of five colorectal cancers are found at this early stage.
The legislation already has the support of a number of health care organizations including the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the Colorectal Cancer Foundation, and the Colorectal Cancer Prevention Project.
“The rise in colorectal cancer demands that we use every screening tool available to combat this preventable disease. Early detection is the key to increasing quality of life and decreasing cancer mortality from colorectal cancer. The Colon Cancer Coalition stands behind the Heinrich/Wicker colorectal cancer detection bill to prioritize needed screening in order to put an end to late stage colon cancer diagnoses and the devastation that it causes to families,” said Chris Evans, President of the Colon Cancer Coalition.
“As CRC changes, impacting more and more younger people, and germline influence in ~ 12% of CRC patients, it is critical that we shift to a lifelong education model around CRC. Its all about family history, personal risks, recognizing symptoms for those with sporadic cases and on-time screening/diagnostic evaluations for elevated-risk and average-risk individuals. An early messaging package (lifestyle, family history, signs, and symptoms) starting in the late teens and early 20s addresses the changing CRC landscape. Forty-five is the finish line for communication and education, not the starting point,” said Dr. Whitney Jones, MD, President of the Colon Cancer Prevention Project.
“The best screening method for colorectal cancer is the one that actually gets used,” said Michael Sapienza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. “Blood screening for colorectal cancer could be seamlessly integrated into existing routine tests for other conditions such as high cholesterol. Adding blood screening coverage to the existing options for patients has the potential to significantly increase the screening rate and save lives. The Alliance strongly supports the Colorectal Cancer Detection Act and calls on Congress to take swift action.”