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How PINK PLUS® Makes Cancer Screenings More Accessible

A woman listens to her doctor explain something.

As a practicing gastroenterologist, I see the many barriers that women have to overcome to get three separate cancer screenings. That’s why I developed PINK PLUS® — to make it easier for women to get these life-saving screenings.

PINK PLUS is a cancer screening program that I developed to provide women with the opportunity to get three cancer screenings at one visit. Patients can come to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJUH) and have a routine gynecology examination, a mammogram, and then a brief visit to review colorectal cancer screening options.

The PINK PLUS Program: One-stop visit to screen for multiple cancers

When I was in training to become a gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, colonoscopies were a fairly new procedure, and people weren’t used to getting them. In fact, the first colonoscopy in the 1970s took more than four hours to complete. Over time, gastroenterologists became more experienced. Today, colonoscopies are very safe, and they have become the standard test to screen for colorectal cancer.

I knew the statistics around cancer screenings: more people die from colorectal cancer than breast cancer when you combine statistics for men and women. Despite this fact, women are more likely to get their mammogram and pap smear than their colonoscopy. In fact, 81 percent of women see their gynecologist annually whereas only 60 percent of women get their colon screened. I wanted to change these numbers and I saw an opportunity to do so: one-stop visit to screen for multiple cancers.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States among men and women combined. Many women mistakenly believe that it’s a man’s disease (and may be more embarrassed to talk about it than men), but the statistics show that it is by no means a man’s disease. For a woman, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 4.3 percent for men and 4.0 percent for women. 

Meeting Women Where They Are

Jefferson has a beautiful Breast Imaging Center, so I suggested that we set aside one evening a week when we could bring a gynecologist to the Center and join me to offer a unique program. Women would get their mammogram and pap smear, and then I would talk to them about their colorectal cancer screening options. My experience has shown me (and studies confirm) that women are more likely to get their colonoscopy when a consultation is bundled with another cancer screening exam such as a mammogram.

In fact, lack of doctor recommendation has been cited as a barrier to colonoscopy screenings. By adding a brief consultation with a gastroenterologist during your visit to the Breast Imaging Center, you can learn about colorectal cancer risks and what screening tests are available (including a colonoscopy, stool tests, and other choices). You will also be advised at what age you should begin screening based on your personal medical history and your family history of colon polyps, colorectal cancer, and other conditions that affect the recommendation.

Removing Barriers to Good Health Care

It can be challenging to keep up with cancer screenings, especially for women. They have to schedule three separate appointments for a pap smear, mammogram, and colonoscopy. Aside from the investment in time, they have to consider cost, transportation, language barriers, patient education, lack of health insurance, and childcare.

One of the major benefits of the PINK PLUS program is that it makes cancer screenings more accessible for all women, especially underserved women. The convenience of a one-stop visit to screen for multiple cancers with day and evening hours is helpful for women of all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.

How to Make an Appointment

PINK PLUS appointments are currently held at 1100 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, with more locations coming soon. Appointments are available during the day or evening. Make your health a priority and call 1-800-JEFF-NOW (1-800-533-3669) to schedule your appointment today!

Marianne Ritchie, MD

Marianne T. Ritchie, MD was one of the first women to practice gastroenterology in the Philadelphia region, and has been a pioneer in the field for over 30 years. Dr. Ritchie earned her undergraduate degree from St. Joseph’s University and her medical degree from Jefferson Medical College. Currently, Dr. Ritchie is an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where she has held several leadership roles. She is the director of PINK PLUS®, an innovative program that bundles women’s cancer screenings into one visit, as well as the director of the Blue Lights Campaign®, an initiative to increase awareness of colorectal cancer. Dr. Ritchie is the host of Your Radio Doctor®, on talk radio station 1210 AM, as well as the featured medical contributor in Women to Watch®, a weekly talk radio show. Dr. Ritchie is a recognized author and public speaker.