WNC Colorectal Cancer Screening Initiative

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The WNC Colorectal Cancer Screening Initiative (WNC CRCSI) provides vital colorectal cancer screening to average risk, uninsured, low-income patients between the ages of 45 and 75 in Buncombe, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties. The program is run by Digestive Health Partners (a gastroenterologist practice in Asheville) in collaboration with local federally qualified community health centers, WCMS's Project Access, and the American Cancer Society. The program was founded by local physician, Dr. Michael Newcomer of Digestive Health Partners. Started in 2019, the WNC CRCSI is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) housed within WCMS.

The American Cancer Society states that regular colorectal cancer is largely preventable and screening is one of the most powerful tools for preventing colorectal cancer. They estimate that 40 out of 100 deaths from late stage colorectal cancer are preventable if all adults aged 45 and older were routinely screened.

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How WNC CRCSI Works

Participating community health centers provide uninsured, average risk patients age 45 or older with a free fecal immunochemical test (FIT)

Patients with a positive FIT who meet the program’s criteria receive a colonoscopy with no out-of-pocket cost.

WNC CRCSI patients who are under 65 years of age, below 138% FPL and who have been residents of Buncombe or Madison counties for at least one year qualify for Project Access® and can obtain hospital- based endoscopy services, colonoscopy, anesthesia, pathology and cancer treatment services at no cost. Patients who do not qualify for Project Access® and have a positive FIT receive a colonoscopy with no out-of-pocket cost. Patients with a positive colonoscopy are then enrolled in a charity care program at one of the local hospitals to receive low-cost surgery and cancer care.

Why it Matters

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in North Carolina but is highly treatable when detected early.

By participating in the WNC CRCSI, Buncombe county’s largest community health center, Western North Carolina Community Health Center, has increased its colorectal cancer screening rate from 34% to 75% in four years, the highest screening rate in the state and one of the highest in the country.

Services provided through programs like WNC CRCSI can have a significant impact in decreasing screening disparities and health disparities in the uninsured.