The Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition and Magnolia Foundation announce that beginning February 15th, 2010, free colonoscopies will be offered for residents of Chattooga, Floyd, Gordon and Polk Counties for medically underserved patients between the ages of 50 and 69 who cannot afford this vital screening. According to Magnolia Foundation founder, Lisa Smith, “three of our primary goals are to remove barriers blocking access to colorectal-cancer-screening services, increase participation in recommended screenings for colorectal cancer and improve area colorectal-cancer- screening rates by the year 2012. This pilot program will help accomplish all three.”

 

Research shows early diagnosis is directly linked to better 5-and-10-year cancer-survival rates,” said Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition Executive Director Gena Agnew, who noted that between years 2000 and 2004, just 41% of colorectal cancers in Georgia were diagnosed at an early stage, primarily due to “suboptimal screening in vulnerable populations.” During this same time period, according to Agnew, only 21% of adults over age 59 reported having a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) in the previous three years, while just 41% reported having a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy.

 

All three of these tests are excellent screenings for colorectal cancer,” Agnew said, “but we are a strong advocate of colonoscopies. With other screening types, such as sigmoidoscopy or FOBT, if a polyp is found or the results are suspect, the patient will need to have a colonoscopy anyway to check for and remove the polyps.”

 

Colorectal Cancer is a preventable disease — through healthy eating, exercise and regular screenings. During a colonoscopy, if the physician finds a polyp, it will be removed. Some of these polyps are pre-cancerous which means if not removed they would eventually develop into colon cancer. American Cancer Society guidelines are for everyone to have a colonoscopy at 50 years of age or sooner if there is a family history of colorectal cancer. The Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition’s Board of Directors approved a pilot for these four counties through June 30, 2010. If successful, the Board will enlarge the project to cover indigent patients in Catoosa, Dade, Murray, Walker and Whitfield Counties in addition to Chattooga, Floyd, Gordon and Polk.

 

This pilot program is the result of a partnership between the Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition; Magnolia Foundation; Floyd Medical Center; Gordon Hospital; Redmond Regional Medical Center; Harbin Clinic Gastroenterology; Rome Gastroenterology Associates; Northwest Georgia Surgical Associates; Chattooga, Floyd, Gordon and Polk County Health Departments; Southeastern Pathology; Cancer Navigators, and Bradford Pharmacy, Trion Drugs, The Medicine Shoppe, Alaven Pharmaceutical and Braintree Labs, Inc. All physicians are donating their time; pathologists are also donating their services should they find any polyps or areas that need a biopsy.

 

Local county health departments will be the first points of contact for patients who will be referred to them to complete eligibility forms. Referrals may come from private physicians, hospitals, primary-care clinics, indigent-care clinics and county health departments themselves. Patients must be residents of the county in which they apply and will be asked to provide certain information establishing their inability to otherwise obtain the colonoscopy.

 

This required information will be outlined to patients by the referring individual or organization and may also be obtained by contacting the local county health department at these numbers:

 

Chattooga County Health Department: 706-857-3471

Floyd County Health Department: 706-295-6316

Gordon County Health Department: 706-624-1444

Polk County Health Department: 770-749-2253

 

Approved forms will be sent to the Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition, and patients will then be directed to either Gordon Hospital or the Magnolia Foundation to be navigated through the process.

 

Colonoscopy procedures will be performed at the three hospitals. If cancer is found, the patient will then be referred to either the cancer navigator at Gordon Hospital (if the patient is from Gordon County) or Cancer Navigators, Inc. (if from Chattooga, Floyd or Polk Counties). The cancer navigators will help guide the patient to financial and treatment resources.

 

The additional associated costs for this screening program will be covered by the Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition and Magnolia Foundation. Magnolia Foundation benefits under-served women and men in Chattooga, Floyd, and Polk Counties who are at high-risk for colon and colorectal cancer. The foundation’s mission is to raise awareness of the disease, increase screening rates and advocate for coverage of colonoscopy testing through insurance companies.de colonoscopies for under-served men and women, raise awareness of colon and colorectal cancer, and be an advocate for coverage of colonoscopy testing

For more information contact Gena Agnew, Executive Director, Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition, Inc. 706-295-6048 or gagnew@nwgacancer.org.