Stark Disparities in the Colorectal Cancer Community: How Fight CRC is Tackling Gaps in Care



How has COVID-19 impacted the colorectal cancer community and what can we do to help ensure patients have access to appropriate screenings and treatments?
As part of our new series, For the Health of It, Komodo’s Chief Marketing Officer, Bill Evans, spoke with Anjee Davis, President of the nonprofit Fight CRC, about COVID-19, colorectal cancer, and the patient community.

Part 1 of Bill’s conversation with Anjee focused on the decline in screenings and procedures during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The second part of their conversation covers disparities in care, including the disproportionate impact of colorectal cancer on the Black community, and how the pandemic has exacerbated these problems. Fight CRC works with different institutions to address these systemic issues impacting the patient community.

Earlier this month, Fight CRC played a key role in getting the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act signed into law. This new legislation removes financial barriers to colorectal cancer screenings, protecting Medicare patients from receiving an unexpected bill if polyps are detected and removed during screening colonoscopy – just one example of how Fight CRC is working to improve access to these potentially lifesaving screenings. 

Check out the video of the conversation between Bill and Anjee. A transcript of their discussion follows:

Bill Evans: Could you talk a little bit about how Fight CRC is using data to track procedures to improve long-term outcomes?
Anjee Davis: In April, when we partnered with Komodo to look at the impact of COVID and were able to be published in the New York Times, I think it really put a spotlight on what was happening in the colorectal cancer community – specifically the downturn in colorectal cancer screenings.
I think that data is incredibly important, especially for our community, to sound the alarm. Looking back at what happened in April and seeing the attention from the media that we received, [getting access to data] really helped us leverage opportunities to highlight just how important this issue is.

As an advocacy organization, data helps us drive our advocacy efforts.  

Fight Colorectal Cancer has been a key player, with Komodo’s help, to [provide] those gaps in data. It’s been really fulfilling to be able to point to these realities and say we can be there for patients. We can address this backlog. We can start pulling the data for our community that is overwhelmed right now and working on COVID.
With our healthcare agencies at the state level and on the national level, we've been able to say, "We know you have your hands full, but we're pulling this and we're showing you the numbers." Our priority is to really inform public health practice and make sure that we're helping patients now when they need us most.
Bill: One of the things I think COVID has brought to the forefront is the issue of disparities of care. What are you seeing out there and what is your community doing to address some of those challenges?
Anjee: The highest death toll for [the CRC] community is within the African-American community. I've been really privileged to work with Black [gastrointestinal specialists] around the country who are bringing this to the national forefront to say, "Hey, we've got to be aggressive about this. We've got to make sure we're messaging the patients to not delay their treatment, but to also know that [those patients] have options." For colorectal cancer, specifically, you can get a colonoscopy. But there are also non-invasive screening tests available. For us, it's about being relentless about your health care.
Bill: How do you think private organizations like yours can either partner with or get more support from public organizations and government led organizations to address some of these problems?
Anjee: Fight Colorectal Cancer is in a long relationship with the Moonshot Program.
We were able to work with them during [then–]Vice President Biden’s [tenure] to lead the war on cancer. In light of that, we're looking forward to a very aggressive campaign with NCI support, DOD support, FDA support, and the CDC. Even now we're working with the CDC to look at where COVID hotspots are and also where there are hot spots as it relates to colorectal cancer incidence rates.
We’re having ongoing conversations with government agencies to say, "What can nonprofit groups like ours do to empower patients, educate patients, and support public campaigns around getting back to healthcare?" And then also supporting educational efforts to provide the education and free resources that patients need to feel supported.
Fight CRC is also working with our government agencies and policymakers to say, if we are encouraging patients, then we need to make sure they have access to our recommendations. If we have policies that are inhibiting patients from getting that follow-up colonoscopy, we’re working with our Congressional leaders to make sure that they are addressing that and they're aware of it. We are also informing CMS on those challenges and making sure that there aren't financial barriers, on top of access barriers, for patients.
Bill: For folks watching this, what advice would you give them for how to get involved or what steps they can take to address the problem?
Anjee: As it relates to healthcare and getting back to care with COVID, from an advocacy nonprofit perspective, it's really [about] encouraging our patients to not delay treatment [and] not delay screening. There are going to be long-term effects of COVID for the cancer community that are going to be very serious.
The director of NCI, Dr. Ned Sharpless, had pointed to the fact that because of delays in care, because we're seeing a drop in the diagnosis of cancer, we are going to see a higher death rate, because of later-stage diagnoses for many patients. So I think we have to brace ourselves and we really have to make sure that whatever type of business you are – you could be a nonprofit or you could be a healthcare organization – that we're not losing sight that this is going to be a long-term problem and it's going to require all of us to work together, think innovatively, and continue to push ourselves to see how can we address these long-term issues that COVID has presented.

Bill: Well, Anjee, thanks so much for joining us today. It was great to hear your wisdom and your insights about what's going on in this community. To learn more about Fight CRC, you can visit Anjee's website at fightcolorectalcancer.org. Be sure to follow Komodo Health on LinkedIn or Twitter for updates on future episodes. See you next time.

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