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7th October 2014

Improving Colon Cancer Screening

Colon cancer is the second leading causes of death from cancer in developed countries. In 2012 it accounted for nearly 700,000 deaths worldwide. Yet, in developed countries compliance with screening recommendations is low. In fact, the most effective screening method decreases the incidence of colon cancer by 52.6 percent, yet only 45 percent get this test as recommended.

Seems low, right? It’s because that screening test is a colonoscopy. This is an expensive, unpleasant, and embarrassing test that involves “cleaning out” your system ahead of time. Then you have a camera threaded through your nether regions to look for abnormalities.

Put that way, 45 percent seems high, doesn’t it?

Find and remove polyps. As Dr. Byers emphasizes in this video from the Colon Cancer Alliance, this is the primary way to prevent colon cancer. Because the current tests are off-putting, this isn’t happening for a large portion of the population.

Fortunately for us, researchers have to get screened for colon cancer just like everyone else, so they are on the hunt for a more pleasant alternative. Recently several new colon cancer screening tests have been approved.

  • A miniature camera that you swallow can take pictures of your colon as it passes through your digestive tract. The images are transmitted to a receiver you wear like a belt for the day. Your doctor can then review the images and determine if a colonoscopy is necessary to remove polyps.
  • A stool collection system that is shipped to your door is another new screening method. This approach is about as easy as it gets – you just deposit a sample in the container in the privacy of your own home. A pre-labeled package allows you to ship it right back to the lab. The lab tests for blood and DNA that suggest cancer and sends the results to your doctor. No prep or embarrassment (unless you tell the UPS man what’s in the box).
  • In Europe a blood test has been approved for colon cancer screening. This test carries the same advantage as the stool collection test in that there is no bowel prep or embarrassing procedure for patients. In addition, the doctor can perform the test right in the office. This automatically increases the number of patients who will be tested.

Now, none of these new tests are as effective at picking up precancerous polyps and actual cancers as colonoscopy is. However, the technology behind the tests will continue to be tweaked, improving the sensitivity for cancer.

I’m also willing to bet that quite a bit of the population that doesn’t currently get screened can be convinced to try one of these new tests. Even with less sensitive results, this could result in a significant decrease in colon cancer rates overall. That’s a very good thing.

Amy Rogers MD is not a practicing physician and nothing written here should be taken as medical advice from either Amy or This is MedTech. Medical decisions should be made with care in consultation with your health care provider.

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