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Kevin Schumann discovered an easy way to prevent colorectal cancer. It began with a do-it-yourself test that he did at home.
Like many people, Kevin had put off having the colonoscopy that’s recommended for men and women beginning at age 50. He didn’t like how the procedure is done and he’d heard the prep wasn’t much fun either.
Kevin discovered another option while attending the annual community health fair that’s organized by Essentia Health in Ada, Minn. He had stopped by a booth to talk to Heather Byron, his registered nurse at the Essentia Health-Ada Clinic.
Heather encouraged Kevin to take home a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which is another way to screen for colorectal cancer. She explained how easy it was to collect a tiny stool sample at home and then drop it the mail to the lab.
“Heather was very persuasive,” Kevin recalls. “She’s the nurse I see at the clinic and I trust her.”
Heather urges all her patients who are age 50 or older to get screened for colorectal cancer because it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. At its earliest stages, there are no symptoms. By the time there are symptoms, it can be difficult to treat.
“Everybody should be screened because it is easy to catch colorectal cancer early, or even prevent it,” Heather says. “If they’ve never had a colonoscopy, a FIT test is easy and inexpensive. Most people have heard of a colonoscopy but they’re not aware of the at-home FIT option.”
“The FIT test was very simple and very discreet,” Kevin says.
When Kevin’s test showed he had blood in his stool, he had a follow-up colonoscopy with Dr. Paul Wasemiller at Essentia Health-Ada. The colorectal surgeon found three polyps and removed them during the procedure. Two were benign but the third was pre-cancerous.
Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a polyp like Kevin’s, which doctors can remove before it has a chance to turn into cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least 60 percent of all colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone age 50 and older was up-to-date on their screenings. Even when not prevented, colon cancer in its early stages is highly treatable, with a five-year survival rate of 90 percent.
“Taking the home test was a good idea and I’m glad I did it,” Kevin says. “I’m glad Heather persuaded me because they found something before it became cancer.”
Colonoscopies are effective because the doctor uses a small camera to examine the entire colon and rectum. FIT offers another option, says Leah Deyo, program manager for survivorship and community outreach at the Essentia Health Cancer Center in Fargo.
“The best screening is the one that gets done,” Leah says. Both FIT and colonoscopies are covered by Medicare and most private insurance companies.
The American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of nationally recognized experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, recommend colonoscopy and FIT testing as options for colorectal cancer screening as well as flexible sigmoidoscopy, stool DNA testing and CT colonography.
“We want to meet people where they are – like a health fair – and prevent them from having to visit our Cancer Center,” Leah says. “We want to keep people from getting cancer, and if they do, we want to treat it as soon as possible to give them the best chance to be cured.”