Beyond the scope: Temple Health providers aim to increase access and awareness of colon cancer screening options

Fecal immunochemical tests, or FIT, are stool-based screenings that can be used at home to detect early signs of colorectal cancer.

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(Provided by Temple Health)

(Provided by Temple Health)

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New cases of colon cancer among older adults have declined over the years, mainly due to better screening techniques. When cancer is detected early, it can often be treated and cured.

But the problem, health experts say, is that many adults who become eligible for routine screening at age 45 don’t get a preventative colonoscopy. By the time someone develops noticeable symptoms of colon or rectal cancer, their disease is already advanced.

Medical providers at Temple Health are working to increase access to all screening options, close racial disparities in outcomes, and reach people who are still being missed in preventative medicine and health care.

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“The people we want to especially reach are marginalized individuals,” said Dr. Abraham Ifrah, an internal medicine resident at Temple. “Because they tend to face a lot of significant barriers to accessing this life-saving screening.”

A colonoscopy is the gold standard of screening to detect all stages of colorectal cancer. The test is performed in a hospital or surgery center by a doctor who guides a scope and camera through the colon as they look for polyps and tumors.

The screening also requires people to drink a laxative concoction the day before to clear out their colon. The actual procedure is done under anesthesia, and patients may need some time afterwards to recover.

People who lack transportation, health insurance, and paid time off from their jobs are less likely to seek out or complete the screening process.

That’s why Temple Health experts say they’re boosting awareness about take-home fecal immunochemical tests – FIT for short.

Health providers will distribute free take-home FIT kits on Thursday, March 28, at Temple University Hospital from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The hospital will also host interactive education and informational sessions on colorectal and rectal cancers.

This is a stool-based type of screening. People use these kits at home to collect their own stool samples, and then they can either test the samples themselves to get instant results or mail their samples to a laboratory that will screen them for early signs of colon cancer.

“FIT testing is very easy to do,” Ifrah said. “If you’re an average-risk individual, you should definitely do it so that you can live the rest of your life without having to deal with colon cancer, because colon cancer kills people quickly when it’s not caught.”

FIT tests are recommended for people with no family history or heightened risk for colon cancer, and they’re typically done every year starting at age 45. Research shows these tests can detect early signs of possible cancer.

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“If your FIT test is negative, you basically have the same chance of not having colorectal cancer as if you’ve gotten a colonoscopy,” Ifrah said, “with the additional benefit of not having to use laxatives for a day and spending another day getting the [colonoscopy] procedure.”

Temple Health collects all the results from laboratories or the patients themselves. People who get positive FIT results are then prioritized for a colonoscopy procedure that is used to confirm a diagnosis and treatment.

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