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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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More Americans Tested for Colon Cancer

CDC: Increase Is Encouraging but There's Still Room for Improvement

Home Test

Seeff described each test, starting with the home-based fecal occult blood test.

"Fecal occult blood test is a test the patient does at home where they are essentially looking for hidden blood in a stool sample," Seeff says. "The reasoning behind that test is that most colorectal cancers begin with polyps, which is a growth in your colon that over many, many years can grow into a cancer if it's undetected."

"Those polyps can sometimes bleed and ... an early cancer certainly can bleed," Seeff continues. "The reasoning behind that fecal occult blood testing is that if you detect a sign of blood, you could find either a precancerous lesion or an early cancer. But if that test is positive, a person still needs to go on to get colonoscopy."

Checking the Colon and Rectum

In sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera is inserted through the rectum to look at the colon. Sigmoidoscopy goes part way up the colon; colonoscopy checks the entire colon. The recommended interval is 10 years for colonoscopy and five years for sigmoidoscopy.

"The barium enema is basically an X-ray that just shows an outline of what could be a polyp or a cancer," Seeff says. "If that's positive, it would need to be followed by a colonoscopy."

The surveys counted how many people had had a fecal occult blood test within the past year and/or lower endoscopy (sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) within the past decade. The data doesn't show whether participants were getting routine screening or were being tested because another test had indicated possible colorectal cancer.

Sites for Low-Income, Uninsured People

The CDC has established screening programs at five sites for people with low incomes, no insurance, or inadequate insurance for colorectal cancer screening, Seeff says.

A CDC news release lists these sites for those programs:

  • The Research Foundation of the State University of New York in Stony Brook, N.Y.
  • Nebraska's health and human services department (statewide)
  • Missouri's health and senior services department (in St. Louis)
  • Maryland's health and mental hygiene department (in Baltimore)
  • Three counties in Washington (King, Clallam, and Jefferson counties)

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