CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y.—Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death; a figure that may dramatically decrease if Americans are regularly screened for this treatable disease. An aggressive preventive screening program, like the one at Kaiser Permanente, uses the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) for convenient and accurate annual screening. FIT is a take-home test used for detecting gastrointestinal bleeding associated with colorectal cancer, polyps and colitis. Screening rates for colorectal cancer lag far behind screening for other diseases, like cervical and breast cancer. Kaiser Permanente has already seen a 28 percent increase in the diagnosis of early, curable colon cancers.
"At Kaiser Permanente, we believe that if there is more focus on prevention and education, rather than on illness, this country could eliminate or greatly decrease diseases such as cancer of the colon and rectum," said Dr. Jeffrey Weisz, oncologist and executive medical director for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. "We are proving this theory and putting it into practice with simple screening tests."
Weisz says screening is the most realistic approach to reducing new cases by finding non-cancerous colorectal polyps and removing them before they become cancerous. Prior to 2006, Kaiser Permanente used several different screening methods, including colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy and guaiac test kits, and was finding less than 50 percent participation from their eligible patients.
Dr. Weisz believes many patients are hesitant to follow these testing methods because they can be invasive, uncomfortable and time-consuming. The guaiac test, a traditional FOBT, can also be considered inconvenient by patients. It is non-invasive and can be completed at home, but it requires multiple samples, as well as some medicinal and dietary restrictions. For these reasons, many patients did not voluntarily return the completed test kit.