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The best colon cancer test is the one you actually take

March 28, 2024

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The best colon cancer test is the one you actually take

You may not realize you have choices when it comes to colon cancer screening.

We offer two at-home test options – with no bowel prep, change in diet, or driver needed after the procedure – for those who are eligible, in addition to the standard colonoscopy test.

The most important choice you can make if you are age 45 or older, though: complete one of these screenings.

“At-home tests can be more attractive to low-risk individuals who would prefer non-invasive screenings,” says Liz Younger, a WellSpan director of quality improvement who has been involved in the work to increase colon cancer screening among patients. “Talk to your provider if one is right for you. The important thing is to get screened.”

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. For people under 50, colorectal cancer is projected to become the leading cause of cancer-related deaths by 2030.

Screening is vital because it can catch pre-cancerous polyps before they turn into cancer. These polyps often do not cause symptoms and they can occur in people with no pre-existing conditions.

WellSpan providers have regular discussions with eligible patients about these colon cancer screening. We also have been reaching out to patients about colon cancer screening by offering and mailing at-home tests to eligible patients. And we hosted listening sessions in our communities to better understand barriers and concerns patients have about colon cancer screening, so we can address those proactively.

Our work is having an impact. More than 15,000 WellSpan patients received colon cancer screening in fiscal year 2022-23, which was about a 9% increase over the previous year.

March is Colorectal Awareness Month, a time to support those affected by colorectal cancer and to take your own steps to stay healthy by getting screened once you reach age 45, staying active and eating a balanced diet.

Your options

Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening, but some patients may be eligible for at-home screenings including the FIT test and Cologuard, which require no bowel preparation. You must have no history of polyps, no family history of colorectal cancer, and no active symptoms (including rectal bleeding, blood in stool or frequent changes in bowel habits) to qualify for the at-home tests.

Here are some details about the different tests:

  • WellSpan FIT (fecal immunochemical test)

You use an at-home kit to collect a small sample of your stool and mail it to a laboratory where it will be checked for tiny amounts of hidden blood from your lower intestines.

It is covered by most insurances.

It should be done annually (if negative).

If your test is positive, a colonoscopy will be needed to rule out cancer.

WellSpan patients can request this test via the MyWellSpan patient portal, and have it mailed to their home.

  • Cologuard (a FIT DNA test)

You use an at-home test to collect a small sample of your stool and mail it to a laboratory where it will be checked for DNA markers as well as abnormalities such as hidden blood from your lower intestines.

It is covered by most insurances.

It should be done every three years (if negative).

If your test is positive, a colonoscopy will be needed to rule out cancer.

WellSpan patients can request a Cologuard test through their primary care provider.

  • Colonoscopy

This test requires preparation, involving diet changes, laxatives, and electrolytes, to clean out the bowel. Patients are sedated during the outpatient procedure while their entire colon is examined with a special camera. They must have a driver to take them home afterward.

It is 98% accurate.

This test requires preparation, involving diet changes, laxatives, and electrolytes, to clean out the bowel. Patients are sedated during the outpatient procedure while their entire colon is examined with a special camera. They must have a driver to take them home afterward.

It is 98% accurate.

It is covered by most insurances, though polyp removal may result in a cost, depending on insurance coverage.

It should be done every 10 years, if normal.

WellSpan patients can request a referral from their primary care provider for the procedure.

Reduce your risk

You can control certain colon cancer risk factors by choosing to eat a healthy diet, get exercise, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your alcohol intake, and avoid tobacco products.

However, more than 75% of colon and rectal cancers happen to people with no known risk factors. Often this type of cancer does not initially cause symptoms.

These are just some of the reasons that regular screening is key to preventing colorectal cancer. Take the step and get screened if you are age 45 or older.

To learn more about colorectal cancer screening at WellSpan, go here. Looking for a primary care provider to help you stay up to date on your screenings? Go here.