The news that actor Chadwick Bowmen died of colon cancer has but a spotlight on this disease that can sometimes go unnoticed until it’s too late. Doctors say one of the best ways to detect and treat this disease is through regular screenings.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of all cancer deaths in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society it’s expected to cause nearly 53,000 deaths this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people begin regular screening for colorectal cancer at age 50. Screenings may be necessary at a younger age depending on risk factors and family history.
In the past one of the only ways to screen was a colonoscopy, which uses a camera system inserted into the colon to look for possible issues.
Now, new advancements allow people to screen more often using a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kit at home. Intermountain has been using the test since 2008 and has seen sharp rise in its use.
In 2014 about 1,700 kits were processed at Intermountain, but in 2019 more than 12,000 were used by patients.
Dr. Sterling Bennett, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Central Lab, notes the test isn’t set to replace a colonoscopy, but can serve as a vital tool for regular monitoring for those with low to moderate risk of colorectal cancer.
“FIT allows people to monitor their health once a year and possibly catch an issue earlier.”
said Dr. Bennett. “The test gives patients piece of mind around something that can go undetected.”
The test works by the patient using the kit to take a small sample of their stool and put it in a tube for shipping back to the central lab. Technicians then use antibodies to look for traces of blood that wouldn’t’ be visible to the human eye. If the test comes out positive it could be the early signs of a bigger issue such as colon cancer.
A doctor would follow up about additional screenings that would be needed to find the problem.
If a patient has a positive test, FIT kits aren’t recommended for further use, and doctors say a colonoscopy would be the best prevention measure in the future. They may have to be done more often depending on what a person’s doctor recommends.
The screenings have become more popular because it’s an easy way for people to keep up on an important aspect of their health and it’s done from home. Caregivers have been able to use it as a reminder for patients to be up to date on their screenings.
In 2019 SelectHealth mailed out 4,800 FIT kits to Medicare Advantage patients who were overdue for a colonoscopy. Nearly 1,100 tests were returned and of those seven percent were positive and patients needed follow up appointments. Without FIT those issues may have gone unnoticed.
A person can receive a FIT kit by having their doctor order them one. It is recommended people speak with their doctors to come up with a screening plan that’s right for them.
For more information on colonoscopy or to find a doctor, click here.