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Hispanics least likely to get colon cancer screening

 Among minority demographics, Latinos are least likely to receive colon cancer screenings. In fact, according to research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, only 28 percent of Hispanics in the United States have received the potentially life-saving screenings, compared to 36 percent of African-Americans and 31 percent of Asian and Native Americans.

According to study author Jim Stimpson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Policy at UNMC, in order to review the disparity, the researchers examined numerous social and economic characteristics of individuals and their communities along with their access to screenings and care.

“These factors, which were effective for explaining disparities in screening between White and African Americans, were not sufficient for explaining the difference between non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanics,” Stimpson told VOXXI. “This finding suggests that something beyond poverty or access to health care is responsible for the lower rates of colon cancer screening among Hispanics.”

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Jim Stimpson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Policy at UNMC (UNMC photo)

Stimpson explained that among the factors holding Hispanics back from colon cancer screenings are community barriers such as the number of community residents with health insurance and the number of specialized physicians capable of provide colon cancer screenings.

Traditional hurdles are also still affecting the Hispanic community.

“There is some evidence to suggest that other barriers may be lowering screening rates for Hispanics such as fear of medical encounters, stigma of colon cancer screening, low levels of health literacy or lack of paid leave from work,” said Stimpson. “We need to explore these factors in more detail to determine if they would improve rates of this life-saving screening for Hispanics.”

He added, for most minorities, improving access to health care by providing affordable insurance and increasing the number of physicians located near or in minority communities would improve colon cancer screening.

Another step which might prove helpful is to develop policies that increase the amount of paid leave from work, which would enable employees to take time off from work to seek cancer screening, rather than waiting to see the doctor when they have a medical problem.

For Hispanics, there needs to be additional work on lowering the fear and combating the stigma of colon cancer screening, Stimpson stated.

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Telemedicine, which allows physicians access to specialists, may be key to increasing care for Hispanic communities. (Shutterstock photo)

One area of medicine which may drastically help improve colon cancer screenings and other areas of medical care for Hispanics and other minorities, suggests Stimpson, is that of telemedicine.

“One suggestion is to train primary care providers to perform the screening and to be supervised remotely, via telemedicine, by a gastroenterologist,” he said to VOXXI. “In this way, the primary care provider, which could be a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant, would perform the procedure and the gastroenterologist would be able to view the image from the endoscope and assist the primary care provider to identify areas of concern in the colon. This strategy would improve access to care for disadvantaged communities and potentially help meet the demand for colon cancer screening that is expected with an aging population.”

Telemedicine may be critical in communities that have disadvantages for accessing health care, especially for getting appointments with specialized physicians that perform colon cancer screening (gastroenterologists).

Stimpson points out it is not likely that rural and frontier communities will be able to have a specialty physician nearby; rather, residents in these communities may need to drive significant distances to see a physician to perform this procedure, which is likely a major barrier and disincentive to get screened. In this situation, telemedicine could be life-saving.

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