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Study: At-Home Tests Can Effectively Detect Most Colon Cancers

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For those people 50 years or older, they’ve probably been told they should have a colonoscopy to screen for cancer. Many, however, don’t heed the advice.

But as CBS 2′s Dr. Max Gomez reported, new research shows an easy at-home test can detect most colon cancers.

Elise Garcia, 67, spent years ignoring her doctor’s advice to have a colonoscopy, which can catch cancer at an early stage when it’s up to 91 percent curable.

“I was afraid,” she said. “I had heard several people tell me that it was very uncomfortable.”

But Garcia was willing to take the less invasive at-home test called the fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, which reacts to blood in a person’s stool.

The test came back positive. A colonoscopy then confirmed she had cancer, but surgeons were able to remove it.

“I really feel (the FIT test) saved my life,” said Garcia, who has now been cancer-free six years.

The tests have been around for years, but researchers at Kaiser Permanente recently reviewed studies from 1996 to 2013 and found the tests detect 79 percent of colon cancers. The researchers published their new findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“The reasoning is that early colorectal cancers bleed,” said Dr. Elizabeth Liles of Portland, Ore.-based Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. “The test is meant to pick up on that bleeding, and if positive, a colonoscopy is then warranted.”

The review also showed FIT tests that used just one fecal sample were just as accurate as tests that required two or three.

Dr. Joanne Schottinger, an oncologist at Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Hospital in California, recommends yearly FIT tests for average-risk patients between 50 and 75.

“If you’re at higher risk for colon cancer because you have a family history or you’ve had a polyp before … then you should get screened earlier, and your screening should involve colonoscopy,” Schottinger said.

Studies show the FIT test is more sensitive than other fecal blood tests, more specific for colon cancer and less likely to give false negatives because of food or drug interactions. But users still have must send off their tests to a doctor or lab to have them developed.

Colonoscopies still have one major advantage over FIT tests, Gomez noted: If a scope finds a precancerous polyp, it can be removed immediately, which prevents colon cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

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