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A new focus for the International Cancer Screening Network

, by Douglas Puricelli Perin

Dr. Stephen Taplin discusses the need and requirements for evaluating cancer screening programs with partners during the ICSN consultation. From left to right: Prof. Ashrafunnessa, Dr. Preetha Rajaraman, Dr. Ravi Mehrotra, Dr. Stephen Taplin, Dr. Gautam Majumdar, Dr. Mireille Broeders, Dr. Rengaswamy Sankaranarayanan.

When the International Cancer Screening Network (ICSN) was established in 1988, a group of committed researchers from the U.S. and Europe got together to compare data and find ways to improve the quality of their programs and disseminate program results. The network was called the International Breast Cancer Screening Network, then, and its focus was on the first organized screening programs in place around the world. Over the next decade screening programs for other types of cancer emerged and the umbrella of the ICSN spread more widely to include colorectal and cervical cancer. Now, the ICSN is thinking about how to take advantage of the nearly three decades of work in cancer screening program research and implementation and reach out more actively to low- and middle-income countries considering screening. For that purpose, ICSN is migrating from its historical place under NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences to assume its new role within the Center for Global Health.

Our first step in this new direction is to establish regional meetings between the biennial ICSN meetings. These meetings will allow for the sharing of knowledge and exchange of challenges, data, and evidence-based practices among cancer screening programs, established or pilot, based in the selected regions. Facilitated by experts from U.S. and Europe, where the experience on what works and what does not is decades old, these meetings will encourage local teams to consider data collection, evaluation, and research opportunities for cancer screening and its implementation in their regions.

A first candidate for the ICSN regional meeting is India, where the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released operational guidelines for cancer screening programs in 2016. Pilot programs have taken place in the past in some Indian states, such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, providing good examples and data to guide implementation in other parts of the country. A regional meeting would allow researchers and program managers from diverse Indian states and neighboring countries to build their work from their local experience in cancer screening.

From September 5-7, 2016, we held an initial planning meeting in Agartala, in the state of Tripura, northeast India to have a better understanding of the region and its potential for research in cancer screening. We spent three days discussing the requirements for organized and opportunistic screening programs, such as minimum data elements that can be monitored to give an idea of the success of the program; sharing the experiences from U.S, Europe, India, and Bangladesh; and, deciding how to move forward. We have submitted a report of the Agartala consultation to our partners in India and we are looking forward to continued collaboration.

We are actively planning the biennial ICSN meeting which will take place in June 19-21, 2017, in Bethesda, MD. This meeting welcomes researchers and personnel from screening programs around the world. We have sessions dedicated to cancer screening in lower-resource settings but also topics of interest to all such as reaching the hard-to-reach populations.  Other topics include novel technologies and screening strategies, service delivery, screening evaluation and modeling, informed and shared decision making, and tailored screening. The meeting will give us an opportunity to look back at what ICSN has achieved in over 20 years of research and evaluation of cancer screening programs; and, guide our plans for the future.

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