Promoting health equity through the early detection of colorectal cancer

By Travelle Ellis, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Health Equity Education, Strategic Partnerships and Medical Integration, Exact Sciences Corp.

Travelle Ellis, M.D., Ph.D.

This post has been sponsored by Exact Sciences as part of their support of the 2022 Prevent Cancer Dialogue.

Healthy communities don’t happen by accident. They happen as the result of a concerted, collective effort to address the unique challenges faced by people of all walks of lifeirrespective of their race, ethnicity, income, level of educational attainment, housing situation, access to transportation, gender identity or any other characteristic that stands in the way of someone achieving the best possible health. At Exact Sciences, we’ve made it part of our mission to create healthy communities—one city at time—starting in our first corporate backyard, Madison, WI.

In Dane County, home of Madison, Black individuals are diagnosed with colorectal cancer about 40% more often than white individuals.1 Unfortunately, statistics like these are not unique to Madison. According to the American Cancer Society, across the United States, Black individuals are diagnosed with colorectal cancer 20% more often and have up to a 44% higher chance of dying from the disease compared to white individuals.2 As a company on a mission to improving colorectal cancer outcomes through early detection and treatment, these disparities alarm us. But alarm alone doesn’t create change.

Dionne Maffett-Corbin

The department of Health Equity was launched in 2020 as part of Exact Sciences’ solution for driving health equity. Since its inception, members of the team have embarked on a journey to build trusted relationships with members in the community. We’ve invited honest conversations and have listened to what trusted community leaders and influencers have to say about how we can promote equitable access to colorectal cancer screening and support follow-through to make Madison a cancer-free zone. A critical component is coactive education and proactive, culturally appropriate collaboration that aims to minimize barriers and empower patients through their screening journey. Dionne Maffett-Corbin, Senior Director, Health Equity at Exact Sciences, describes our work as, “intentionally focused on establishing our organization as an authentic partner, working alongside other key stakeholders to drive better CRC outcomes for vulnerable patients.” She adds, “we believe our efforts are stronger when we co-create solutions to influence effective change.”

We know that colorectal cancer screening tests can help to reduce colorectal cancer disparities by detecting colorectal cancer at early stages. We also understand that cost can stand in the way of access, particularly among those who may not otherwise be screened. That’s why we’ve worked hard to facilitate no-cost access to the multitarget stool DNA test for all eligible patients qualifying for Medicaid. That way, people get the answers they need to either gain peace of mind or take the first step to getting necessary treatment.

At the national level, we’ve championed policy that removes barriers to screening and recently celebrated our success in supporting policy that eliminates cost sharing for a follow up colonoscopy after a positive stool-based test. We know that adhering to a follow-up colonoscopy can be challenging for some people, so removing the cost barrier is a crucial step to advancing equity and creating healthier communities.

Healthy communities don’t happen by accident, which is why we’re listening, rolling up our sleeves and raising our voices to influence change in our community and yours.


  1. National Cancer Institute, State Cancer Profiles. Accessed February 28, 2022.
  2. American Cancer Society. Cancer facts & figures for African American/Black people 2022-2024. Atlanta: American Cancer Society. 2022.