Expanded Lung and Colorectal Cancer Screening — Ensuring Equity and Safety under New Guidelines | NEJM – nejm.org – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended major expansions of the populations that should undergo routine screening for lung or colorectal cancer. Both recommendations are evidence-based and, if implemented effectively, will most likely save lives. The changes were made with an eye toward reducing inequities in rates of early cancer detection among women and people who identify as Black, Indigenous, or Latinx. The guidelines, however, were released without adequate attention to how they would be implemented. Efforts to deploy complex, highly personalized screening methods using the patchwork approach that is typical of the U.S. health system could backfire, unless health care organizations, payers, and policymakers invest in preventive care infrastructure.

We believe regulatory and policy solutions are necessary to prevent unintended consequences associated with these important expansions in cancer-screening eligibility. To combat systemic racism and promote safety in ambulatory care, health care systems could collect and report data on disparities in preventive care, and they could design and deploy safety nets to ensure timely follow-up after abnormal screening results. In addition, we need policies that explicitly support equity and safety in preventive care.

When layered atop an already inequitable care delivery system, a substantial increase in the volume of preventive screening could exacerbate inequities in access based on race and other factors and lead to missed or delayed cancer diagnoses because of inadequate follow-up. Twenty million people between 45 and 49 years of age are newly eligible for routine colorectal cancer screening under the guidelines. Another 6.4 million people are newly eligible for lung cancer screening. The recommended age for starting lung cancer screening in current or former smokers dropped from 55 to 50 years, and the recommended number of pack-years of smoking history before screening is initiated dropped from 30 to 20 — which nearly doubles the population of eligible adults.1

Even before

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