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Colon Cancer Screening Greatly Underused

Among cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common, but it is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Every year about 150,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer (also known as colon cancer), and of those a third die from it (50,000).Given the severity of colon cancer, and the widespread availability of effective screening methods (tests to find colon cancer), screening for colon cancer is very underused.A panel of doctors convened in  February 2010 as part of a NIH State-of-the-Science Conference hosted by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health. At the end of the conference, the panel released a report stating that screening for colon cancer is greatly underused, and thereby not finding colon cancer in millions of people each year who are at risk for colon cancer.

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The doctors recognized that proper and timely screenings for colon cancer can seriously reduce deaths from colon cancer. The reason that screening for colon cancer will reduce deaths is there is a direct target population of at-risk individuals who should be screened and doctors are looking for a very specific precursor to colon cancer, the adenoma, a common type of polyp found in the lining of the colon.

Screening for colon cancer simply means performing tests to find colon cancer or its precursor, adenomatous polyp, prior to the onset of symptoms.  Screening for colon cancer is recommended by major published guidelines. For colon cancer, all persons over the age of 50 with an average risk of cancer, meaning those who do not have cancer in their family history or any diseases that predispose to colon cancer.

In general, adults age 50 and older are slowly increasing their rates of screenings, moving from only 20 to 30 percent in 1997 up to almost 55 percent in 2008.  This means that only a little more than half of at-risk individuals are being screened for colon cancer.  This  misses millions of people in the United States.

There are many tests to detect and find colon cancer including the fecal occult blood test (FOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT), sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, colonoscopy, computed tomography colonography and fecal DNA.   The fecal occult blood test is a test that looks for the presence of blood in the feces (stool) which is an abnormal finding.  There are many more screening options available for colon cancer.

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The most widely used screening method for colon cancer is the colonoscopy, which is recommended every 10 years for those 50 or older by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).  As colonoscopies have become more frequent, coupled with the fact that Medicare began covering colonoscopy screenings in July 2001, other tests, such as the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and the sigmoidoscopy have been used to a much lesser extent.

According to ACS and USPSTF guidelines, the FOBT, which examines stool for blood in the feces (stool), and the sigmoidoscopy, which is an internal examination of the lower part of the large intestine, are still recommended every year and every five years, respectively, for those 50 and older. And if either of these tests produces a positive result, a colonoscopy is a required for follow-up.

Tests like the double-contrast barium enema are no longer used with any regularity, and stool tests are mostly limited to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) systems and select managed care systems.

The panel found that patients who have insurance coverage, access to a usual source of health care, or a combination of the two, are more likely to be screened for colon cancer. Additionally, those who are educated and have higher income are more likely to be screened.

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The panel also noted that older patients (60-75 years old) are more likely to be screened than those 50-59 years old, and those who have been screened for other types of cancer (breast, cervical or prostate cancer) are more likely to be screened for colon cancer. Also, patients who are more knowledgeable about the types of available colon cancer screening tests are more likely to receive them.

Factors that lead to a higher screening rate also include having focused one-on-one interactions with patients, reduced barriers to tests (i.e. direct mailing FOBT kits to patients), follow-up reminders and leading group education.

The panel of doctors made several recommendations to improve the screening rate for colon cancer. Among them are increasing the public’s awareness that screening does achieve a higher rate of cancer prevention through early detection, setting up systems like the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium to provide proper follow-up for positive colon cancer screening results, and developing systems that assure that patients have access to a high quality of colon cancer screening programs.

Contact Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyers Pittsburgh, PA at Berger & Lagnese, LLC

Sometimes even when we are responsible and take precautions it is our medical professionals who let us down. Even the top hospitals in Pennsylvania, including UPMC Shadyside and UPMC Mercy, can make mistakes that could cost you your health. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with colon cancer, or died from the disease, and you wonder if it could have been found or detected earlier or a doctor misdiagnosed the condition, call the colon cancer lawyers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at Berger & Lagnese, LLC and have your case reviewed at absolutely no cost to you. Our office is conveniently located at 310 Grant St #720, Pittsburgh, PA 15219 and consultations can be scheduled either online or over the phone at (412) 471-4300. They will find the answers to your questions.

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