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Hitting the Targets: Conference Speakers Stress the Importance of Primary Care Providers in Increasing Cancer Screening Rates

The Exact Sciences team headed to Baltimore this week to attend the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s March conference: “A Dialogue for Action on Cancer Screening 2013: Hitting the Targets.”

This national conference began in 2009 as a space for dialogue focused solely on colorectal cancer screening. For 2013, Prevent Cancer expanded the meeting’s scope to include discussions of other preventable cancers, including breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and skin cancer.

In addition to discussing prevention, this year’s conference also focused on what attendees could do to help the country “hit the targets” for cancer screening goals outlined by Healthy People 2020, a public health initiative led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020’s goal is to increase colon cancer screening rates from 52.1% to 70.2% among adults of screening age.

One overarching theme amongst presentations at this year’s conference was the importance of primary care providers in increasing cancer screening rates. Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services, John Polanowicz, kicked off the conference with a keynote policy address on accessibility, cost, and quality of healthcare in the U.S. He argued that the key to reducing cancer rates was investing in prevention, which requires a strong primary care base across the country. Polanowicz voiced support for increasing the rate of payment to primary care physicians to encourage more medical students to become primary care providers.

Lillie D. Shockney, RN, from the Johns Hopkins Breast Center spoke on the importance of primary care providers engaging patients in their healthcare. Shockney noted that in her work with breast cancer patients, she has seen firsthand the importance of the primary care provider in taking an active role in the patient’s care. Primary care providers and oncologists must work together, she argued, concluding that the main responsibility for the patient’s care should ultimately be transferred back to the primary care provider at the appropriate time.

Dr. Richard Wender, Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and a member of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable, further stressed the importance of primary care providers in his presentation about establishing a sustainable path for healthcare spending. Wender argued that every patient must be given the opportunity and encouraged to have a primary care provider. But he pointed out that this won’t be possible for all patients if current trends continue, citing a study by the American Academy of Family Physicians that predicts a shortage of more than 45,000 family physicians by the year 2020. To combat this shortage, Wender argued that financial incentives must be implemented into the system to attract more professionals to primary care roles.

It was very energizing for the Exact Sciences team to hear about all the different initiatives around the country that groups are working on to increase cancer screening rates. The message from everyone is clear, screening saves lives.  Now we need to raise our voices together to make sure everyone hears it.

What changes to the U.S. healthcare system would you recommend to increase cancer screening rates?

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