Colon cancer screenings: ‘The only wrong option is to do nothing,’ doctor says

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and doctors want the public to know about the importance of screening.

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. for men and women combined.

“The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is 90%, if it’s caught at an early stage, 90%. Obviously those are fantastic odds, and that’s what we want for our patients,” said Dr. Dana A. Sloane, a Kaiser Permanente gastroenterologist in South Baltimore County.

“And if we detect colon cancer once it has spread to other parts of the body — that five year survival rate can drop to less than 15%,” she said.

The American Cancer Society recommends that colon cancer screenings begin at 45 for people with average risk.

Someone considered average risk does not have a family history of colorectal cancer in a first-degree relative, no personal history of colon polyps or history of other gastrointestinal disorders, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

There’s a screening test that people at average risk for colon cancer can do at home.

Known as the FIT or fecal immunochemical test, it’s a method of screening that uses a person’s stool.

“Using this particular at-home testing method accomplishes two things. No. 1, we’re able to safely and effectively screen patients for colon cancer; we’re also able to keep them out of the medical centers at a time where some patients may be a little bit reluctant to come in,” Sloane said.

Detailing ways the FIT differs from a colonoscopy, Sloane said it does not require going into a medical center, using laxative, undergoing sedation or taking a day off from work. You get the kit in the mail, put a sample into a tube and mail the kit back to a laboratory for testing.

FIT is approved by the American Cancer Society for all average-risk patients, “But again — the bottom line is to speak with your doctor, understand what your risks are and talk with your doctor about what is the best screening option for you. The only wrong option is to do nothing,” Sloane said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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