There are far too many cancers where the opportunity for either prevention or early detection simply does not exist. In these instances, we often find the cancer only when it becomes symptomatic in an advanced stage. But this is not the case for all cancers. In fact, for some cancers, such as colo- rectal cancer, we have highly effective methods to prevent the cancer or to catch it at an early and highly treatable stage.

This March, we celebrate Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Given the fact that colorectal cancer remains a leading cause of cancer deaths and that almost 50 percent of colorectal cancer cases can be prevented through screening, the public health significance of screening and early detection is clearly evident. Right now, with approximately $51 million in grant money, the American Cancer Society is supporting 92 cutting-edge research projects focused on ending colorectal cancer. However, it is still imperative that we do all we can to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and the importance of screening. Research has already shown us that screening works.

A collaboration of more than 1,300 organizations nationwide have come together in an effort called 80% by 2018, with a commitment of educating about the importance of screening and improving access to those screenings so that by 2018, 80 percent of adults aged 50 and older will be regularly screened for colorectal cancer.

Maine has achieved a 73 percent screening rate of those 50 and older. If Maine achieves that 80 percent goal by the end of 2018, then by 2030, we will have helped 1,046 Mainers avoid ever getting cancer and saved 767 more lives from cancer death. While Maine’s screening rate is one of the top in the nation, to reach our goal means that we still need to make sure that 92,000 more people 50 and older get the colorectal cancer screenings that they should.

If the entire country meets its 80 percent screening rate by 2018, the results would be phenomenal. By 2030, 277,000 people would never get cancer. It could be completely prevented. And an additional 203,000 more people would live. They would not die from a colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Getting screened doesn’t need to be as invasive or as difficult as some people may believe. There are now several effective options available for colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopy, fecal immunochemical tests and virtual colonoscopy.

Despite the availability of highly effective screening tests, a significant percentage of individuals over the age of 50 are not screened as recommended. Statistics show that nationally almost 40 percent of individuals over the age of 50 have not received the recommended colorectal cancer screening; within certain populations, this percentage is even higher.

More public education to raise awareness about the risk associated with colorectal cancer and the importance of screening is a clear first step to improve screening rates. But we must go beyond that; we must ensure that awareness campaigns reach every corner of our community and screenings are made widely available to those who need it.

We must also address the barriers patients face when trying to get a colonoscopy or other screening test. Some screening tests require significant preparation and time off from work, and they also require patients to have someone available to take them home following the procedure. Addressing these challenges can be a vital bridge to a successful screening test.

We can all play a role in increasing colorectal cancer screening rates. Do you know someone who is over 50 and hasn’t been screened yet? Help them learn more about the importance of screening (the valuable information posted at www.Cancer.org is a great first step) or encourage them to speak with their doctor about screening. Providing a ride for a neighbor, colleague or relative who has a scheduled colonoscopy can be the critical difference between a screening that is completed and one that is not.

This March, let’s all work together to get more people screened, reduce rates of colorectal cancer and save lives.