States that Support Access to Health Information Can Decrease Colon Cancer Deaths

Release Date: September 25, 2012 | By Sharyn Alden, Contributing Writer
Research Source: The Milbank Quarterly

KEY POINTS

  • The rate of deaths from colon cancer decreased between 1980 and 2008 for people with high socioeconomic status but increased in those with low socioeconomic status.
  • Colon cancer deaths decreased substantially in states with higher rates of information diffusion, a measure of a state’s willingness to adopt public health campaigns and promote health care practice innovation.
  • States with lower rates of health information diffusion had slower declines in colon cancer deaths during the study period.
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Despite medical advances in colon cancer screening and treatment, people with a lower socioeconomic status remain at a higher risk of dying from colon cancer. A new study in The Milbank Quarterly finds that states and communities that focus on increasing the adoption of innovative health care practices along with providing greater access to public health information can reduce these deaths. 

This year, over 50,000 people in the U.S. are projected to die from colon cancer and one in 20 people will be diagnosed with the disease.  Since colon cancer usually progresses over 7 to 10 years before becoming deadly, early detection and treatment can save numerous lives. 

“But because people do not seek or are blocked from seeking preventive treatments, this can have deadly consequences for many,” said the study’s lead author, Andrew C. Wang, M.P.H., at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, New York. “However, our results are hopeful in this sense. They suggest that we could attack this problem by more efficiently diffusing this information to those who are least likely to access it on their own.”

Researchers identified U.S. patients who died from colorectal cancer between 1968 and 2008 and examined socioeconomic (SES) disparities and differences in state levels of health information diffusion. States with policies designed to promote health care innovation and the effective diffusion of health information to the public and clinicians have been previously linked to improvement in health status.

The researchers found that deaths from colon cancer in the highest SES counties decreased over the 40 year period while deaths increased in lower SES counties. In addition, states with high rates of health information diffusion had substantial declines in deaths, while states with low diffusion had comparatively lower declines. Notably, higher rates of health information diffusion lessened the impact of low SES on colon cancer deaths.

Encouraging the faster spread of information “at all levels of society, including patients and providers, may have a large impact on reducing both colorectal cancer mortality and the social inequalities observed in colorectal cancer mortality,” the researchers wrote.

Mark E. Benson, M.D., assistant professor of gastroenterology and endoscopy at the University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health said, “The study was interesting in that while it is well known that socioeconomic factors often play a part in having access to colon cancer screening, a consumer’s motivation to seek information regardless of whether they have access to health insurance also plays a part in cancer prevention.”

Benson pointed out that with so much information available to consumers via the Internet, medical sources and intra-personal relationships today it is surprising that there is a disparity of education about colon cancer.

“Yet, I see that disparity all the time in my practice,” he said. “Some patients are well informed prior to the screening procedure and others are not. Educating patients about the importance of colon cancer screening is a complicated process but vitally important because it can save lives.”

Wang added, “Not everyone has the resources to pay for preventive services, but to increase population health we need to improve outcomes among individuals who are less likely to hear about, discuss and use information to its maximum capacity.”

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, and part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required. While the information provided in this news story is from the latest peer-reviewed research, it is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment recommendations. For medical questions or concerns, please consult a health care provider.

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Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at hbns-editor@cfah.org or (202) 387-2829.

The Milbank Quarterly: Heidi Bresnahan, director of publications, at (212) 355-8400 or hbresnahan@milbank.org.

Wang, A. et al. 2012. Fundamental Causes of Colorectal Cancer Mortality: The Implications of Informational Diffusion, The Milbank Quarterly, Vol. 90, No. 3, 592–618.

Tags for this article:
Environment and Health   Inside Healthcare   Health Disparities  



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