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Mail-in colon cancer screening may end colonoscopy for most

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FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States and medical officials said early detection greatly increases survivability.

“Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is more prominent as you get older, particularly in people age 50 to 75 years old, even up to 85,” said Army Col. Troy Prairie, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital’s chief of primary care. “Unfortunately a lot of people do not get screened for colon cancer. In the United States, many people never have any form of colon cancer screening, but if you catch it early you have a great survival rate.”

Colonoscopy, a procedure performed in the hospital under sedation, is the most accurate screening method for colon cancer. However, there is a new, noninvasive screening method for colon cancer that beneficiaries can do at home.

“Our newest test that we’re offering our beneficiaries is an at home stool DNA test. It is very good at finding cancer, and even better at ruling out cancer when it is not there. If you have a negative test, then we’re very confident that you do not have colon cancer,” said Prairie. Test results from the DNA screening method are good for three years.

“In most cases, with the DNA screening, results will be negative and patients will be good for three years. There are a lot of folks who simply do not want to have a full colonoscopy done, so this may be a good method for them,” said Prairie, citing a saying in medicine that the best test is the one the patient will do. “The first test were going to offer you is the colonoscopy, because that is the best test or in medical terms – the gold standard. However, if a colonoscopy is not the test for you, then based on your medical history, the DNA home stool test is going to be the next test we’ll encourage you to do,” said Prairie.

If the test results from the DNA test come back positive, patients will still need to have a colonoscopy so their provider may get a better look and biopsy any suspicious lesions for further testing. Prairie said that detection is key to saving lives. “It’s very important. We want beneficiaries over age 50 to have testing done,” said Prairie.

Early indicators for colon cancer include colorectal polyps which may not cause any symptoms. This is why early medical screening through methods like colonoscopy or DNA stool screening are so important. More advanced symptoms may include blood in or on your bowel movement, stomach aches, pains or cramps that do not go away, and unexplained weight loss.

Patients should speak with their primary care team during annual wellness exams to determine if a colon cancer screening is needed. Screening is not required for patients who have had a normal colonoscopy within the past ten years. Healthcare providers can have a test kit mailed to beneficiaries who they determine require a current screening or discuss other testing options.

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