Virginia Cooperative Extension employees increase colorectal cancer screening rates by 20 percent

Colorectal cancer is the third-most commonly diagnosed and third-most fatal cancer in men and in women in the United States and Virginia. New screening methods have allowed for both the early detection of colorectal cancer and its prevention through the removal of intestinal polyps before they become cancerous. Early detection of colorectal cancer is crucial to successful treatment and increases survival rates from 13.1 percent, when discovered at an advanced stage, to 90 percent, if detected at an early, localized stage. In addition to screenings, a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a healthy eating pattern, and appropriate weight maintenance is pivotal to decreasing risk of colorectal cancer.

Eighty by 2018 emblem

In February 2016, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) joined the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s “80% by 2018 Initiative” to eliminate colorectal cancer as a public health issue. Conducted for VCE employees, a colorectal cancer awareness campaign urged eligible members to get screened for colorectal cancer and encouraged everyone to adopt healthy lifestyle practices that reduce colorectal cancer risk. The campaign’s key message is that “colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable.”

The campaign resulted in healthful changes in diet, exercise, and screening. VCE staff reported increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat every day and substituting white meats for red and processed meats. Half of those asked said they had started exercising, and many increased the time or intensity of their exercise. Most importantly, the actual colorectal cancer screening rate among all VCE employees increased from 52.7 percent in fiscal year 2016 to 73.3% in fiscal year 2017 — a 20.6 percent increase in screening.

The goal within VCE is to reach a colorectal cancer screening rate of 80 percent by 2018, but we are going beyond just educating ourselves. Extension agents are introducing the initiative to the communities they serve. Agents will work with employers in their counties to conduct the “Colon Cancer Free Zone” worksite campaign, which increases employee awareness of colorectal cancer as a preventable disease and helps move them to action. If we work together, we can reach the goal of 80 percent colorectal cancer screening of all eligible Virginians by 2018.

If interested in conducting the “Colon Cancer Free Zone” campaign at your worksite, please contact Carlin Rafie at crafie@vt.edu or 540-231-3162.

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