Hundreds of Hoosier lives could be saved every year because insurance and health plans are now required to screen for one of the deadliest forms of cancer at a younger age.
Dropping the age for colorectal cancer screenings from age 50 to 45 will allow doctors to catch and treat the disease in its earliest stages under the law that easily passed in the Indiana General Assembly’s 2020 session. The law took effect on March 30.
“What this does is allow us to help people who are already getting polyps around 40 and 50 and have those people have their polyps removed so that they don’t get colon cancer,” Dr. Dipen Maun, a colorectal surgeon at Franciscan Health, said. “I do think it’s going to help a huge percentage of patients who are not getting their testing done because it’s not covered by insurance companies yet.”
The American Cancer Society estimates that this year more than 104,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer and another 43,000 will be diagnosed with rectal cancer, both of which have high survival rates when caught early.
In 2018, the American Cancer Society changed its guidelines for colorectal screenings and recommended that people should start being screened at age 45, instead of 50 following a study showing that younger adults were an increased risk of the disease.
Early detection and treatment makes a difference. The cancer society reports that when detected early, the five-year survival rate is 90%.
One of the most common ways to catch colon cancer in its earliest stages is through a colonoscopy where small polyps in the colon can be detected and removed. Those polyps can take as long as 10 to 15 year before developing into cancer and removing them heads off the chances of getting the disease.
“As a physician who takes care of colon cancer, I fully support (the legislation) because I’ve seen so many people under the age of 50 come in with cases of colon or rectal cancer,” Maun said. His patients will benefit because they will now be able to have their health insurance companies cover the cost of screening. As a result, fewer people will die, he added.
The author of the legislation, Rep. Brad Barrett, R-Richmond, said he drafted the law after the American Cancer Society released new guidelines showing improved survival rates. Before his election to the Indiana Statehouse in 2018, Barrett was a general surgeon in Wayne County.
Barrett said it was gratifying to have been able to advocate at a state level about an issue he spent most of his career working on, adding he hopes this will lead to more Hoosiers being screened at a younger age.
The legislation, he said, should mean that insurance costs should remain stable or even go down because if people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer when it is at an early stage, the cost of treatment is less than if it had been caught at a later stage.
“In reality, I think time will tell,” Barrett said. “But I look at this as not only a benefit to health and human lives but also potentially a benefit to the cost of medicine by not only preventing disease but getting earlier treatment.”
Tabby Fitzgerald is a reporter with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.