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Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Screening for deadly disease critical

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Eric Tegethoff

(Washington News Service) March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and an increase in cancer rates among people younger than 55 is highlighting the importance of screenings. 

A recent study found diagnoses for people younger than 55 increased from 11 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2019. Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer death in the United States. 

Dr. John Dunne is the medical director for knowledge and implementation for Kaiser Permanente, Washington.

"The important thing is that because we do screening, about two-thirds of those deaths can be avoided," said Dunne, "if everyone gets screened on a regular basis."

About 150,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S. in 2023 and about 50,000 will die. 

Because of the increasing prevalence among younger people, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended screening age from 50 to 45 in 2021.

While colonoscopies are an important screening test, Dunn said there's an easier way - called a FIT kit - that can be used at home. He said the process involved in getting a colonoscopy can make them next to impossible for many people.

"To get someone to watch your children, to get that time off of work, to get someone to give you a ride is - in some cases - very difficult," said Dunne. "And for those people, there's a real advantage to being able to do a home test."

Colonoscipies are typically done every ten years while the FIT kit tests are taken every year. With FIT kits, doctors look for microscopic blood in stool samples. 

Dunn said if the test is positive, people have to come in for a colonoscopy. 

Regardless of which method people choose, he said the best screening test is the one that gets done.