Join AON Vice President Pharmacy Operations Melody Chang as she speaks with guests speakers on topics from Drug Shortages to their Impact on different types of Cancer Treatments.
The most important aspect of maintaining good health is staying informed about preventive care measures. Cancer screenings stand at the forefront of the battle against this devastating disease, offering individuals the opportunity to detect potential threats early on and take proactive steps toward better health outcomes. However, misconceptions and uncertainties often shroud these life-saving procedures. Empower yourself, as a patient, with the insights you need to navigate the realm of cancer screenings and arm yourself with the tools to safeguard your health.
In 2023, there are estimated to be 1.9 million new cancer diagnoses and 609,820 deaths from cancer. It is the second most common cause of death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Preventive measures such as cancer screenings help detect issues early on when intervention has the highest efficacy rate. Despite the benefits of cancer screenings, many people forgo them for various reasons.
According to a release by the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, 39% of survey participants did not know they needed to be screened, 37% of participants had “no symptoms” that would lead them to have a screening and 31% of participants cited the costs associated with screenings as the reason why they did not have them. The good news is that, while insurance coverage for cancer screenings depends on the health plan you are enrolled in, most plans are required to cover some cancer screening costs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). You can call your health plan and ask to know what is covered as well as any out-of-pocket expenses that may be incurred from the tests beforehand.
To ensure your health remains a top priority, cancer screenings are recommended based on age and gender.
- Ages 21 to 29: For women, routine breast examinations can help detect any abnormalities that may lead to breast cancer. Additionally, cervical cancer testing such as a Pap test for women becomes critical to protect against cervical cancer, which is often preventable.
- Ages 30 to 39: Women continue to need frequent breast examinations and cervical cancer testing.
- Ages 40 to 49: Both men and women should begin talking to their physician about colon cancer screenings. Men around the age of 45 are recommended to have prostate cancer screenings. Women continue to need frequent breast examinations and cervical cancer screenings and have the choice to start annual breast cancer screenings with mammograms.
- Ages 50 to 64: Both men and women are recommended to have colon cancer screenings in addition to breast, cervical, colon and prostate screenings. However, both groups should seek out lung cancer testing at this time, especially if they have any history of smoking.
- Ages 65 and up: Breast, cervical, colon, prostate and lung cancer screenings are important, and some cancer screenings are covered by Medicare.
Keep in mind, however, that your physician may recommend certain cancer screenings earlier or more often if you are at higher risk. For example, while colon cancer is most seen in older individuals (aged 45 and up), if you have a high risk for this cancer or a family history of it, you may be asked to have colon cancer tests at a younger age or more frequently. To make sure you are receiving the right cancer screenings at the right time, talk with your physician and discuss the best plan for your unique health situation. Many cancers, if caught early, can be diagnosed and treated — drastically improving the likelihood of survival and success.
Cancer screenings also include a variety of different types of cancer tests and are different from diagnostic testing. Interestingly enough, cancer screenings are not used to detect cancer; this is a common misconception that most people have about screenings. The main goal of screenings is to detect any present abnormalities that will lead to further cancer testing. A physical exam; lab tests such as blood, urine and tissue tests; imaging tests like x-rays; and genetic tests can all identify whether something abnormal may be present. Tests that identify cancer are called diagnostic tests, which include additional laboratory testing, imaging and biopsies that your physician will order.
Learning that you may have cancer is a frightening experience, and at first, you may question the validity of the results. How often are there false positives and false negatives? While cancer screenings and diagnostic tests are not always 100% accurate, there is a lower rate of false positives and false negatives thanks to the advancements in cancer testing as well as the precision used when analyzing samples. Physicians are meticulous in their duties and in reviewing test results. For this reason, physicians will often conduct additional testing to ensure the initial results were correct before beginning any treatments.
If the screening and diagnostic test report that cancer is present, your physician will refer you to a specialist, also known as an oncologist. An oncologist is a doctor who has been trained in diagnosing and treating cancer. You may even transition to an oncologist who has received training in and focuses on your specific type of cancer. Your oncologist will review your medical history, including your cancer screenings and other tests, to determine a treatment plan that is designed uniquely for you.
Stopping cancer in its tracks and before it has had a chance to metastasize begins with a single step: having the recommended cancer screening at the right time in your life. Screenings offer the gift of early detection, allowing you to confront potential cancerous threats head-on and increase the chances of successful treatment. Remember, knowledge is power, and being proactive about your health is an investment that yields invaluable returns.
Heading to an oncology visit can be a daunting experience, filled with questions, uncertainties and a range of other emotions. However, with the right approach and preparation, you can make the most out of each oncology appointment, ensuring you receive the best care, support and information during this crucial time.
Come prepared with the required information. To ease the process of checking in, be sure to come with the right documents and information such as an ID, proof of insurance, a list of current medications and the doses, a list of other physicians you see, and an understanding of your and your family’s medical history. However, if you are still unsure what information to bring along with you, you can call the clinic and ask prior to your appointment.
Come early to check in before your appointment. Running late can easily add extra stress and frustration. Arrive between 15 to 20 minutes before your scheduled appointment time. This gives you enough time to check in with the receptionist, complete any necessary forms and have a moment to sit before being ushered back. This recommendation also remains true for virtual appointments. Allow yourself time to log in to the platform before your appointment.
Bring someone to support you. You should not have to attend your appointments alone. In fact, having a strong support network, whether that be a family member or friend, can improve the journey and help you stay optimistic despite the current circumstances. This individual can also take notes during the appointment; remind you of any questions you may have missed; ask follow-up questions you may not have thought of; and serve as an interpreter, if needed, to ensure you understand the information.
Related: Cancer’s Impact on Mental Health
Prepare questions to ask the physician. With such a diagnosis, you probably have a long list of questions to ask. When the time comes to meet with your oncologist, you want to make sure your questions are answered. Here are questions you may want to ask the physician:
- What type of cancer do I have, and what stage is it?
- Is there a prognosis at this time?
- What is your experience in treating patients with the same cancer?
- Do I need any additional tests to confirm my diagnosis or to get me started on the treatments?
- What treatment options are available to me that you recommend? What are the side effects of the treatments that I may experience? How long are the treatments?
- What about clinical trials? Are there any that I may be eligible for? What is the success of clinical trials?
- Regarding my diagnosis, what are things I should and should not do to ensure I remain in the best health possible?
- If I have questions or concerns moving forward, whom do I contact? Do I contact the clinic or have a special person on the care team I can call?
- What support and resources are available to me?
Take notes during your appointment. It may be a simple step that is often overlooked but taking notes during your appointment becomes a resource that you can refer to at a later date and serves to keep your thoughts and appointment information organized. This also is beneficial as you do not have to solely rely on memory to recall important details discussed during the appointment. An additional tip is to store your notes somewhere that is accessible, whether that is on paper or through an app on your phone.
Confirm all important information before leaving. Always verify details from your appointment and review any critical information or next steps with your physician before leaving. Such information as prescription changes, upcoming tests and treatments, and even any lifestyle adjustments like diet and exercise are examples of what to verify so that you know what to do moving forward.
Making the most of your oncology appointment is about taking control of your healthcare journey and becoming an empowered patient. Being prepared helps you approach each visit with confidence and clarification so that you can play an active role in the decision-making process. Your appointments with your oncologist are opportunities to gain knowledge and receive guidance on your health. Remember, you are not alone. Your care team is there every step of the way to guide and support you toward better health and healing.
At AON, we’re making great strides toward closing the cancer care gap by ensuring every patient has access to the care needed to help fight their cancer. With an expanding network of close to 200 providers in over 75 clinics across 17 states, our practices are not only in big cities, they’re in rural areas where medical resources are scarce. We’re actively enrolling patients in over 150 clinical trials throughout the network, offering more community-based options so that patients don’t have to go far to get the latest treatment. And by responsibly controlling cancer costs and sourcing over $103 million in free medications and financial assistance for patients, we’re increasing access to care for hundreds of cancer patients.
It starts by recognizing cancer disparities unique to each population.
Because of the genetic makeup of tumors, cancer affects individuals differently. Other factors that alter the way an individual experiences cancer include sex and gender, lifestyle, geography and income among others. These are explained as the social determinants of health or, more specifically, cancer disparities. Race is also an underlying determinant that can put certain populations at higher risk of being diagnosed with certain cancers.
African Americans are part of one of the largest minority populations in the United States (an estimated 46.9 million people). This group also reports the highest cancer mortality rate, despite the decline in cancer incidence rates, of any other racial population. These striking statistics have become the basis for the drive across the healthcare industry to implement initiatives to reduce healthcare disparities and ensure every individual has equitable access to the care they need to treat their disease at every stage.
For example, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, triple-negative breast cancer, and inflammatory breast cancer. Additionally, they are at higher risk for developing lung and colorectal cancers. Black men are diagnosed more often with lung and bronchus cancer as well as prostate, colon and rectum cancers than other populations.
Here are three facts about cancer among the African American population.
- This population reports a lower cancer screening rate compared to their counterparts. Frequent cancer screenings, as recommended by physicians, can help detect tumors in the early stage and before they have had time to develop. As a result of delayed and, in some cases no, screenings, late-stage diagnoses are more common, which has allowed time for the tumor to develop and spread. The higher rate of inaccessible and quality healthcare services and being uninsured as well as an increased level of medical mistrust are only just a few reasons why screenings are low for this population.
- The five-year survival rate for certain cancers is lower for African Americans. Cancer is often found in advanced stages that are more challenging to treat, which increases the risk of mortality. In fact, Black men have a 19% higher mortality than White men, and Black women have a 12% higher mortality rate than their counterparts. The survival rates are impacted by the barriers to timely care and accessible cancer treatment centers in addition to other cancer disparities.
- There is an underrepresentation of African Americans in clinical trials. Diversity in cancer treatment trials is critical in learning how certain therapies impact specific populations. However, African Americans are less likely to be participants in these studies for various reasons including economic factors, unawareness of available trials and mistrust. Diversifying the participants who enroll in trials provides insights into the efficacy of treatments.
Early detection through frequent screenings makes a difference in whether cancer therapies are successful or not. By recognizing the disparities populations face, such as the African American community, physicians and healthcare teams can work toward creating more inclusive services that enhance the health and well-being of many.
American Oncology Network (AON) works to bridge the gap cancer disparities have created by addressing them head-on. Through both innovative initiatives and simple processes such as increasing communication about available clinical trials and providing support and resources to help patients throughout their cancer journey, AON is dedicated to actively closing the cancer care gap — making cancer care and therapies accessible to more Americans.
To locate an AON partner oncology practice, visit aoncology.com/locations/.
A recent article by The American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC), summarizes an analysis presented during the 64th American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition and co-authored by Ruemu E. Birhiray, MD of Hematology Oncology of Indiana showing that patients with multiple myeloma were able to experience improved responses to the proteasome inhibitor ixazomib after switching from bortezomib. Read the article.
The pharmacy’s most recent re-accreditation announcement impacts you more than you may think.
AON’s in-house specialty pharmacy announced it has received re-accreditation through URAC, Utilization Review Accreditation Commission. Established in 1990, URAC is a leading accrediting body ensuring the highest standards of care are achieved in healthcare. The organization currently offers a variety of accreditations and certification programs in the categories of pharmacy, patient care management, administrative management, digital health and telehealth, health plan, and mental health and substance use disorder parity.
The pharmacy received initial URAC accreditation in February 2020 after working alongside URAC’s experts to align policies and procedures to those outlined for accreditation. In order to achieve accreditation, the pharmacy met the required standards in nine areas: risk management, operations and infrastructure, performance management and improvement, consumer protection and empowerment, pharmacy operations, medication distribution, patient service and communication, patient management, and lastly, reporting performance measures to URAC.
Accreditation is an indication of meeting high standards of care.
Accreditation is not achieved easily. It also can be a process that takes place over several months to a year, depending on the accreditation standards and rigorous review phases. Organizations, such as AON, that pursue and earn accreditation have successfully met multiple outcomes. Learning that an organization or specific department is accredited should confirm that the care and services being provided are of the highest quality and meet the industry’s standards. For patients using an accredited specialty pharmacy, such as AON’s Pharmacy, this should bring peace of mind that the organization providing oral oncolytic medications has spent time ensuring effective processes and procedures are in place.
Accreditation keeps the organization accountable for consistently meeting high standards of care.
Achieving re-accreditation status is a goal that shows the dedication the organization has to be compliant with the industry’s best practices. Allowing lapses in accreditation and not seeking renewal can be troubling signs. Throughout the accreditation years, organizations are required to provide frequent updates and measurements on key outcomes to remain aligned with the accreditor’s standards. If this is not the case, the organization risks losing its accredited status. Maintaining accreditation is an ongoing process that drives accountability from the organization.
While it may seem that accreditation is only a seal indicating effective healthcare measures are in place to ensure safe patient care standards, it carries more impact and influence on you as either an AON physician, a member of the care teams or a patient. Here is what to know according to AON Senior Pharmacy Director Doug Braun.
What is specialty pharmacy accreditation?
It is an accreditation designed specifically for pharmacies providing an advanced level of pharmacy services and disease management for patients using medications that require special handling, storage and distribution requirements. This accreditation demonstrates a pharmacy’s emphasis on quality improvement, safety, delivery of patient-centric care management and regulatory compliance.
Why obtain multiple accreditations?
In 2017, only 24.5% of specialty pharmacies achieved accreditation. As competitiveness and insurance contract requirements expand, achieving secondary accreditation has become necessary.
“To assure we meet the requirements of payers and to demonstrate the superior service we provide as a healthcare entity, obtaining and maintaining triple specialty pharmacy accreditation status is vital,” said Braun.
How does maintaining specialty pharmacy accreditation demonstrate AON Pharmacy’s commitment to excellence?
The achievement of accreditation ensures relevance, value and integrity to patients, providers and payers. It helps pharmacies meet payer requirements for financial reimbursement and stand out from competitors. It also demonstrates an ongoing commitment to excellence.
Striving for the highest standards of patient care and safety is the top priority for AON, and accreditations are a means of building trust with patients who come to AON practices for their cancer care and treatments.
“We will continue to pursue relevant accreditations across all departments of the organization,” said James Gilmore, AON Chief Pharmacy and Clinical Services Officer. “We firmly believe in patient-centered care and safety. When we are able to meet the standards required for accreditation, we hold ourselves accountable for delivering exceptional care and services. It is my hope that our patients, physicians and staff understand the importance of the accreditations we seek and help us meet the objectives successfully.”
To learn more about AON’s in-house specialty pharmacy, visit aoncology.com/pharmacy/.
One in eight women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. While treatments for the disease have advanced and survival rates are improving, the National Breast Cancer Foundation also reported that breast cancer remains the most common cancer for American women and approximately 287,500 new diagnoses will be made by the end of 2022.
Early detection and prevention plans are important for slowing the progression of the disease and increasing the rate of survival. Additionally, asking the right questions when diagnosed with cancer is critical, providing essential information for patients who are beginning their journey to recovery.
Below are eight questions to ask upon receiving a breast cancer diagnosis.
- What type of breast cancer and receptor status do I have? Learning more about the type of cancer along with the receptor status can give patients clarity about their diagnosis and a better understanding of their current health status. Patients need to know their diagnosis because it encourages follow-up questions and the opportunity for accurate information to be discussed between the oncologist and patient.
- How is the type of treatment decided? Women are different and so are cancers and their characteristics. That is why treatments are individualized to the patient and targeted to the specific type of cancer. Certain therapies that work for one patient may not be as successful for another.
- Do all breast cancer patients require chemotherapy? Chemotherapy is a common treatment chosen for many cancer patients because of its aggressive nature. However, depending on the type of cancer, chemotherapy may not be recommended as part of the treatment plan for breast cancer.
- How will my cancer and treatment plan affect my quality of life? Cancer and cancer treatments can disrupt many aspects of life. Patients can struggle with cognitive performance and pain management, for example. It is important to share concerns with the oncologist throughout the cancer journey, from the start of the diagnosis to post-treatment. Oncologists do their best to ensure quality of life is maintained, and if it is not, sometimes there are changes that can be made to help patients in this particular area of concern or additional remedies that can be recommended.
- Will I be able to continue working or take care of my family while undergoing treatment? While many cancer patients find treatments lead to nausea, fatigue and weakness, each patient experiences their treatments differently. Discussing with the oncologist symptoms and side effects of the cancer diagnosis and associated treatments helps patients determine what is to be expected, allowing them to make needed adjustments in their day-to-day routine — whether that is at work or at home.
- Will I need to make any nutritional changes? Eating well and ensuring proper nutrition is maintained play important roles in a patients’ cancer journey and recovery, which is why a dietitian is often part of the care team. There are several foods that patients will want to consume and others, such as raw fish and unpasteurized dairy products, that need to be avoided.
- How do I tell my children I have breast cancer? Sharing news of a life-threatening disease is difficult and emotionally taxing. Patients should share their diagnosis with children when they are ready and have received accurate information to avoid misleading the conversation. Many patients have found it helpful to rehearse what is to be said with a spouse, family member or close friend.
- Are there support groups available to help patients and their families? Having support throughout the cancer journey is important because cancer can take a toll mentally, physically and emotionally. Support systems have been shown to positively influence cancer outcomes, and patients should establish their support systems early on. Start with creating a support group of family and friends and then branch out to local and national groups such as those provided by the American Cancer Society to find additional resources.
These questions provide transparency into a complicated disease. Knowing not only the type of breast cancer but more about the treatment options available and lifestyle changes that may be required helps patients understand their diagnosis, make better-informed health decisions and feel involved in their care plan.
Five tasks to complete to keep your health in order when dealing with a natural hazard.
Natural hazards include severe storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and the like. These situations can easily cause anxiety, stress and even fear of what is to come. These feelings may be heightened if you happen to have a disease or illness that requires specialized medications and medical equipment to manage.
If you are finding yourself in a state of panic because Mother Nature decided to send a biological or geological hazard your way, take a moment to breathe and complete the recommended steps to find some peace of mind:
- Notify your physician and care team: Contact your care team to let them know of your situation including if you are planning to evacuate the area. They will also be able to answer any questions you may have about managing your health during the unprecedented time and provide additional care guidance.
- Ensure you have enough medications for several days. Take count of how much medication you have on hand, and if needed, request from your physician some additional days’ worth just in case you happen to be relocated and are unsure of when you can return. You’ll want to have enough medications to last you for at least seven days.
- Make sure you have a list of your current medications. In times of panic, you may forget your medications while hurriedly leaving or may run out. Have a few lists of your medications, the dosage amount, instructions and prescriber name and information available and accessible in at least two places. For example, you may have a list made out on your phone and a paper list in the car or your purse. Be sure to take this list with you no matter where you go.
- Connect with your caretakers. If you rely on a caretaker, such as a family member or friend, who helps you manage your health, reach out to them immediately and request help. Share with them any new learnings from talking to your care team and update them on your current medications and quantity. Additionally, discuss a plan early on in case evacuation is required.
- Have important phone numbers accessible in at least two places. Important numbers for your physician, care team, preferred pharmacy, health plan, caretakers and family should be readily available in at least two places in case of emergencies. You’ll want to keep this information close to you in case you need to relocate.
In addition to the five tasks, listen to and follow the recommendations from state and local officials.
Despite the program’s closure on June 30, 2022, the Oncology Care Model (OCM), an initiative by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), provided participating clinics the opportunity to pioneer a value-based care model focused on decreasing the healthcare costs for Medicare beneficiaries undergoing either chemotherapy or hormonal therapy treatments. These treatments are often costly yet necessary, leaving many patients to struggle financially. Nineteen AON community oncology clinics were part of the initial 200 practices across the nation that were approved to participate in the OCM after successfully meeting the criteria required by the CMS.
To learn more about AON’s successes with the OCM, read the full article “Impressive Results with Oncology Care Model Confirm American Oncology Network at the Forefront of Patient-Centered Cancer Care.”