July 20 (UPI) -- Sending colon cancer testing kits to Medicaid beneficiaries showed larger increases in screening rates than sending reminders alone, according to a study published Monday by the journal CANCER.
Over a one-year period, 23% of beneficiaries who received a fecal immunochemical test and a reminder by mail either submitted a test or underwent a colonoscopy, the researchers said.
Just under 16% of those who received only a mail reminder completed screening, they said.
"Getting screened for colorectal cancer via a simple mail-in stool test is not only effective, but also cost-saving for people who are not up-to-date with their [recommended] screenings," study co-author Stephanie B. Wheeler told UPI.
"[These tests are] a major advantage over screening options that require face-to-face visits, especially during a pandemic," said Wheeler, who is an assistant professor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health.
Routine screening for colon cancer -- including colonoscopy and at-home stool testing -- can identify cases of the disease early, when treatment is most effective, according to Wheeler and her colleagues.
Current guidelines recommend regular screening for adults 50 to 75 years old, the researchers said.
However, more than 33% of Americans are not up-to-date with screening, they said. Strategies to boost screening in these adults include mailing screening reminders and test kits, which detect blood in stool samples.
For their research, the team, led by Wheeler and Alison Brenner at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, developed a simulation model of 35,000 Medicaid-insured North Carolina residents age 52 to 64 who were overdue for colorectal cancer screening.
The mailed reminder plus test kit alternative would cost health facilities, Medicaid or state health programs $116 per person over the reminder-only alternative, the researchers said.
The findings suggest that payers like Medicaid can substantially improve colorectal cancer screening in low-income and medically underserved populations at a reasonable cost, according to the researchers.
These populations are more likely to die from the disease than other groups, and extending screening to them in an efficient manner might help address this disparity, Wheeler said
"It is important, even during the pandemic, for people to receive preventive care services, safely, especially ... when risks for COVID-19 are relatively high [for] the 50-to- 75 age group," she said. "Mailed stool tests help make that possible."