Clarity Healthcare, partners working to help people seek early detection options, including at-home FIT screening

Early detection is vital for surviving colorectal cancer. That’s why Clarity Healthcare is taking steps to get as many people as possible screened for the disease or to get a colonoscopy during National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Cindy Epperson, an LPN at Clarity Healthcare, stressed that “early detection saves lives” — resulting in a five-year relative survival rate of 90 percent. Providers at Clarity Healthcare have take-home, Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) screening kits that are covered in the cost of a patient's office visit — and they plan a drive-thru in the future so visitors can pick up a free screening from their vehicle.

Screening rates are lower in rural communities and among people with lower incomes, according to the American Cancer Society. Epperson said she and her colleagues are working to change that trend through membership in the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable and an American Cancer Society partnership called Links of Care.

Links of Care puts patients in touch with local clinics or hospitals for pro bono colonoscopies. Issues arise when an uninsured or underinsured patient's screening or colonoscopy comes back with blood in the sample, which could mean cancer has developed, said Maggie Grotefendt, American Cancer Society health systems manager.

“This is one of the reasons we see so many late-stage colon cancers in underserved populations,” she said. “If people had access to diagnostic colonoscopy in the early stages, they have more of a chance of preventing the cancer, decreasing the mortality rates for this preventable disease.”

Clarity Healthcare's providers are working to overcome financial barriers for area residents through the FIT screenings and partnerships aimed at early detection of colorectal cancer. Epperson encouraged people to call the not-for-profit facility with any questions.

“Our main goal is to make sure that everyone in the community gets healthcare,” she said. “Cost should never be a barrier — unfortunately, it is a lot of times — but things with colorectal screenings can be so easy and affordable.”

Epperson said the Links of Care program could help Clarity Healthcare providers see more patients, including some patients who regularly visit the ER and could benefit from the facility's sliding fee scale. The FIT screenings are performed at home, and are taken yearly if no blood is found. If there is blood in the sample, a colonoscopy is the next step for treatment.

Epperson is looking forward to warmer weather so officials can hold a future FIT screening drive-thru in the Clarity Healthcare parking lot at 141 Communications Drive.

When Epperson talks with people about the importance of FIT screening, she emphasizes how the disease can affect many loved ones and friends.

“If you're too embarrassed to do it for yourself now, do it for your family,” she said.

For more information, call Clarity Healthcare at 573-603-1460 or visit 141 Communications Drive.

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com