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How Boston Scientific’s outreach program is helping beat CRC

Gastroenterology / Services & Solutions / Community Wellness / Community Wellness Executive Brief
Colorectal cancer is the third most common and second deadliest cancer in the U.S., but through regular screening the cancer can be cured completely when caught early enough.1 
Initiatives like National Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March or the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s 80 by 2018 campaign — an initiative to screen 80 percent of the eligible population by 2018 — aim to increase screenings rates while also raising public recognition of the disease. And although both mortality and incidence rates are dropping among age appropriate patients, nationwide barriers like finances, fear of healthcare providers or of surgery stand in the way of easily-accessible screenings.2
Boston Scientific is amid the fight. Through its Close the Gap Health Equity for Life initiative, the company works to reduce health disparities for the underserved, ensuring their access to quality care and supporting disease prevention and awareness programs to help patients reduce risks for chronic illness, including colon cancer, heart disease, pancreatic cancer and asthma. As part of the initiative, Boston Scientific is working with physicians, nonprofit organizations and community groups to advance the fight on colon cancer through awareness, education and access to screening.
Jennifer Clark, Boston Scientific’s marketing strategies and solutions team group manager, said the company started the initiative as a grass-roots-led heart health program and then expanded efforts to include colon cancer after seeing a space they could positively contribute to.
She said, "Colon cancer [was an easy decision] because of how drastic the health disparities are, particularly for African-American males and geographically, for people in the South, where colon cancer [rates] are much higher for those groups. … [Colon cancer] in terms of a disease state, has a high level of disparity and a clear call to action: go get a colonoscopy."
According to a 2017 study published in Cancer Causes & Control, significant disparities exist in poorer socioeconomic areas. Introducing medical screening and access to treatment alone have not decrease mortality rates.3
To combat this physicians and organizations like Chicago based Advocate Illinois Masonic Digestive Health Institute’s Andrew Albert, MD, MPH, and Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s CEO Michael Sapienza engaged in efforts to fight colon cancer at the local and national level, aided by Boston Scientific’s Close the Gap program.

Dr. Albert and #BackOffColonCancer

Dr. Andrew Albert


Growing up with a gastroenterologist for a father, Dr. Albert knew at an early age the importance of preventing colon cancer. As medical director, Dr. Albert realized significant challenges associated with colon cancer care and he came up with a solution.
Patients coming to see him already knew about the risks of colon cancer and were seeking treatment, but there was a large isolated population making no effort to see him that was in danger.
He began simple community outreach efforts to spread awareness: a hand written sign, stapled to his back reading “Lost a patient to colon cancer. Did not need to happen. Get your Colonoscopy. #BackOffColonCancer.” This image went viral. The campaign spread globally by nurses, physicians, police officers, firefighters and even athletes sharing the simple message while taping signs to their backs. But for Dr. Albert, the next steps he took in his community were more telling than the tweets and social media posts. He embarked on a series of speaking engagements at community staples like churches and businesses, preaching the importance of colon cancer screening to a community hungry for information.4
“I recently gave a talk at a firm downtown [in Chicago] and at the end of my talk somebody raised their hand and said, ‘I’m sorry, but can you just tell me what a colon is?’ So what [is there that] you can do? [Physicians need to] get in front of people who don’t have exposure to people that speak on medical topics, or people who don’t have routine [medical] visits. … That would be the most helpful, so that we can do our jobs,” Dr. Albert said.
Boston Scientific is helping Dr. Albert do just that. With the company’s assistance Dr. Albert and his team have had a significant impact on the community. “[Boston Scientific] has given us the ability to take our physicians out of the clinics and out of the hospital space and [bring them] to a space where people are little more comfortable, or where people might not have had medical care.”
Boston Scientific provided Dr. Albert and his fellow colleagues the opportunity to succeed beyond the four walls of a hospital and succeed in the community. 
Dr. Albert and Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s Surgical Director Joaquin Estrada, MD, recently spoke in front 5,000 congregants at a church on the Southside of Chicago.
The church held a health fair after the service where the two physicians met with people to discuss colon cancer-related fears, concerns and worries. 
Dr. Albert said. “Physicians need to hear about Boston Scientific’s efforts in the community. … I think doctors at this point, would love allies in the field. I think knowing you have allies in the field [working to raise colon cancer awareness], is a true benefit to everyone.”

Helping nonprofits do more

Boston Scientific’s Close the Gap also supports nonprofit organizations, including the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Boston Scientific sponsors the Alliance’s Blue Hope Program and partners with the organization for a series of awareness events nationwide. The Blue Hope Program provides colon cancer screenings to individuals in need.

Michael Sapienza

Alliance CEO

Alliance CEO Michael Sapienza said Boston Scientific is helping the organization in its efforts to focus on prevention, patient family support and research. The Alliance has a goal to save 100,000 lives through screening grants like those provided by Boston Scientific, large scale screening programs and by providing grass roots screening assistance.
The Alliance aims to break down barriers associated with colon cancer screening and supporting the families of colon cancer patients. As of July, the Alliance has provided 125,000 patients and family members with navigation support through its help line, live chats, community groups, national conference and online resources.
Mr. Sapienza said Boston Scientific’s support has been essential in the Alliance’s efforts to improve screening numbers. “When my mom died from this disease in 2009, it was the second leading cause of cancer death, and 10 years later, it still is. There are certain barriers to getting screened, so financial assistance programs and working with companies like Boston Scientific are incredibly important to move the needle.”
Breaking down barriers is important because each barrier is another excuse that risks a patient’s life. Patients may fear the colonoscopy prep solutions, the consequences associated with missing a day of work for the procedure or even the high price tag of a colonoscopy so Mr. Sapienza is grateful to remove the cost barrier. He said, “[The Blue Hope Prevention Program] has helped more people get screened, and that’s the most important thing. … The financial assistance is important to break down the barriers.”
Intestinal tract

The future of colon cancer

Despite incidence rate decreasing over the last several years, a new problem has emerged taking the gastroenterology space by surprise: an increase in early-onset colon cancer.1 The incidence of colon cancer in patients under 55 is growing, and rates are expected to continue increasing in the coming years. A presentation at the 2018 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 in San Francisco, stated for individuals born in 1990 the risk of developing colon cancer has doubled while the risk of developing rectal cancer has quadrupled for an unknown reason. 5
Dr. Albert and Mr. Sapienza are concerned. To combat the problem, the American Cancer Society released guidelines in May recommending adults receive screening at age 45. The reception to the updated guideline has been largely positive. 
Dr. Albert said, “50 to 60 percent of [patients] don’t get screened at all until they’re 55. If you start the message earlier, maybe more of these 50 or 55 year old [patients] will get screened earlier. Perhaps people won’t put it off as long. … There’s a lot of power behind that.”
The issue is of quintessential importance to Mr. Sapienza, who regularly talks and interacts with colon cancer patients of all ages. He called the guidelines a win but stressed the importance of the research the Alliance and other organizations are funding to figure out what’s causing the increases. He added the support from Boston Scientific has helped further this research.
“Our five-year goal is to invest $10 million in clinical research. This year we’re investing over $1 million dollars in early-onset colorectal cancer research to find out why we’re seeing this increase in young adults,” He said.
Mr. Sapienza hopes the guidelines are the first of several measures to fight early-onset CRC. “We definitely agree with the recommendation, but we have to put a but in there. I sat with a 35 year old and a 28 year old, both who will likely pass in the next six months from this disease. I meet with those folks every single day and I say, ‘What about them?’”
Despite the progressing fight, Mr. Sapienza and Dr. Albert feel Boston Scientific’s Close the Gap program is making strides to improve awareness. To this point, Mr. Sapienza offered hope for the newly diagnosed-patient.

“This isn’t a death sentence. This is a manageable disease, and you’re not alone,” He said. “There are 1.4 million Americans living with this disease and [we are] here to help you,”


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