March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and St. Luke Hospital laboratory manager Brenda Rhodes is observing that by promoting a new screening method that she says offers several advantages over the old method.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people get a colonoscopy when they turn 50 and every 10 years after that, but the CDC also recommends an annual fecal occult blood test for people 50 or older.
Few people actually get that test every year, Rhodes said, because there are several factors that made it inconvenient. It required taking a stool sample for three consecutive days, during which patients were supposed to limit red meat in their diet, she said.
Recently St. Luke has switched to a new version of the test that only requires one stool sample and no dietary restrictions in advance. She hopes the increased convenience will lead to more people getting screened.
“It’s a win-win in every way,” Rhodes said.
She added that the new tests are more accurate, and the test can be completed in 10 minutes. Rhodes will be at the St. Luke booth at the county health fair Saturday morning at the sports and aquatic center in Marion if anyone has questions.
Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More than 50,000 people die from it each year, but it is treatable and curable, with more success when detected early.
Screenings can help find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they become cancerous, preventing the cancer entirely, or find it early when treatment often leads to a cure.
Age is one of the biggest risk factors for colorectal cancer. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people 50 or older, according to the CDC. Other risk factors include obesity, alcohol use, smoking, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and family history.
Symptoms may include bloody stool, stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away, and unexplained weight loss.