During Minority Health Month and Beyond, the Best Test for Colon Cancer is the One That Gets Done
Colon cancer is not a disease that discriminates. In Arizona, over half of colon cancer diagnoses across all races, ethnicities, age groups, and among both men and women are late-stage cancers which are more difficult to treat.
The fact is, not enough adults are being screened for colon cancer nationwide. Individuals less likely to get screened are Hispanics, American Indians or Alaska Natives, rural residents, men, and individuals with lower education and income.
These do not have to remain the facts. A simple, non-invasive, and very accurate colon cancer screening test exists for patients to use at home. The Fecal Immunochemical Test, or FIT, is a highly sensitive and specific test for detecting early signs of blood in the stool – that is, the FIT accurately detects true indications of the presence of disease and correctly provides negative test results when disease is absent.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends colon cancer screening for women and men to begin at age 50 using a FIT, colonoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy. A FIT is recommended each year, and a colonoscopy is recommended every ten years beginning at age 50. For African Americans, the recommended age to being colon cancer screening is 45 years old. For individuals with a family history or who are experiencing symptoms, the age to start getting screened may be even younger.
The Fit at Fifty HealthCheck Program at ADHS starts its patients with a FIT. If a positive FIT test occurs, the patient then proceeds with a colonoscopy, following current USPSTF guidelines. Last year, the program provided 1,532 FITs, 173 colonoscopies, and diagnosed 12 cancer cases.
The FIT offers an alternative method for patients to get screened for colon cancer. When adults get screened for colorectal cancer, it can be detected early at a stage when treatment is most likely to be successful, and in some cases, can be prevented through the removal of precancerous polyps.
For any patient, the best test for colon cancer is the test that gets done.
Emily M. Wozniak is the HealthCheck Programs Operations Manager in the ADHS Bureau of Health Systems Development. She can be reached at (602) 364-0214.