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November 4, 2010

Free Colon Cancer Screenings Begins in Two Illinois Counties

The Vince Demuzio Colorectal Cancer Screening Initiative is beginning to provide free screenings for colon cancer in central Illinois.  Through funding from a $300,000 pilot project grant from Illinois Department of Public Health, patients in Menard and Sangamon counties can now sign up for the screenings.

Criteria to qualify for the screenings are – individuals must be 50-64 years old, be uninsured or underinsured, and have a household income that is below 250 percent of the Federal poverty level ($55,000 annual income for a family of four).  The grant covers the screening costs and arranges follow-up and referrals if needed.  Subsequent treatment costs are not directly covered.

Information about the screenings is available by calling 1-877-321-6506 weekdays.  The project is a collaborative effort by Simmons Cancer Institute at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and public health departments throughout central Illinois.  Dr. David E. Steward, professor and chair of internal medicine at SIU, is coordinating the project.

As the pilot project develops, residents in 15 other counties will be invited to participate later this year - Bond, Cass, Christian, DeWitt, Effingham, Fayette, Greene, Jersey, Logan, Macoupin, Mason, Montgomery, Morgan, Scott or Shelby.

According to the National Institutes of Health, rates for screening for colorectal cancer are consistently lower than those for other cancers, despite the evidence and guidelines that support the value of screening for this disease.  Illinois Cancer Facts and Figures, a biennial report published by the American Cancer Society noted that screening rates are low for both colonoscopies (55 percent) and at-home fecal occult blood tests (40 percent).

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death due to cancer for men and women combined.  Survival rates for colon and rectum cancer are nearly 90 percent when the cancer is diagnosed before it has extended beyond the intestinal wall.

Regularly scheduled screening can prevent cancer from developing if precancerous polyps are detected and removed before they become cancer, this requires a colonoscopy.  Regular screenings also can find cancer in its earliest stages, when it can be treated.