FARMINGTON — Franklin Memorial Hospital is leading the way when it comes to screening patients for colorectal cancer.
FMH, a member of the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network, has made significant progress in its efforts to increase its colorectal cancer screening rates. FMH screened 68.7% of eligible patients last year, continuing a positive trend that puts it closer to meeting the MaineHealth goal of 75.2%, according to the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization.
“This is good news for our patients,” said Joseph Caruso, MD, a surgeon at Franklin Health Surgery. “Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women, but it is also the most preventable cancer with regular screenings. Higher screening rates means a healthier community.
“However, while we are proud of our efforts to increase screening numbers, we also know there is much work to do,” said Dr. Caruso. “We are confident that being a part of the larger MaineHealth system will give us access to the resources we need to not just meet the goal but to exceed it in ways that truly benefit our patients and our community.”
Dr. Caruso noted that such routine screenings remain vitally important, even as we navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Delaying routine health care can have devastating consequences, especially when it comes to delays in the early detection of cancer,” he said. “We want everyone to know that is it safe to keep all of their routine care appointments, including colorectal cancer screenings.”
Colorectal cancer screening – whether a colonoscopy or other screening method – is important because it allows for the discovery of polyps before they turn into cancer. The MaineHealth Cancer Care Network recommends that most people receive regular screenings beginning at age 50 and earlier if they show symptoms or fall into a high-risk group.
Symptoms include changes in bowel movement, bloody stools, vomiting, feeling tired or rundown and stomach discomfort. Groups at high risk include African Americans, people with a family history of cancer, obesity and certain lifestyle factors that include smoking, heavy alcohol use, regularly consuming red meat and fatty foods.
The positive trend in screening numbers at FMH is part of a larger effort by MaineHealth that has increased the rate of colorectal cancer screening system wide from just 45% in 2014 to 79% in 2019.
That effort focused on primary care providers to make sure that they consistently initiated a conversation about colorectal cancer screening with patients in the at-risk categories. It also leveraged the MaineHealth electronic health records system, called MyChart, to send colorectal cancer screening messages to patients based on their age.
The effort has allowed MaineHealth to help Maine post some of the best colorectal cancer screening rates in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In 2018, the last year for which data is available, Maine posted a 75.8% screening rate.
“We will continue to work hard on these outreach initiatives, but it’s important that patients know that they can talk to their primary care provider about colorectal cancer screening at any time,” Dr. Caruso said. “Early detection is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer, and a conversation with your primary care provider is the best way to start.”