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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

Colon Cancer Test -- Once May Be Enough

Single Test May Be More Acceptable to Patients
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Leading colorectal cancer experts contacted by WebMD agree that making screening acceptable to a wider number of people is critical to saving lives. They say that the single-test approach has merit, but it is too soon to say whether one-time screening is effective.

"Our message is that any test you have is better than not being tested at all," says Durado Brooks, MD, MPH, director of colorectal cancer research for the American Cancer Society. "Right now the screening rate in this country is around 40% and our early-stage diagnosis is only about 37%. The benefits of any colorectal cancer screening are huge, and it is a crime that it is underutilized."

Ernest Hawk, MD, chief of gastrointestinal cancer prevention for the National Cancer Institute, says one-time screening is not likely to be as effective as routine screening. But he says there are other potential advantages to the one-time approach.

"It is amazing how fast people run when they are told they need to be screened for colorectal cancer," Hawk tells WebMD. "Certainly telling them that they only have to do it once would increase compliance. But we have to wait and see if this approach is effective."

The American Cancer Society currently recommends that men and women follow one of the following five screening options beginning at age 50:

  • Yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT) -- a test to check for blood in the stool.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
  • Yearly FOBT plus sigmoidoscopy every five years.
  • Double-contrast barium enema every five years.
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years.

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