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With pandemic numbers decreasing, docs urge colon cancer screening

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Eric Tegethoff

(Washington News Service) Cancer screenings are important tools for health professionals, but some worry the pandemic could dampen numbers. 

Screenings for colorectal cancers are key for people starting at age 45 - or younger for people with a family history of these cancers. Dr. Maggie Chin is a family physician with Kaiser Permanente in Lynnwood.

"Early detection is really key to treatment of colon cancer," said Chin. "So, there's a big urgency to get people started again on regular screenings, so that we can avoid a future pandemic-related uptick in cancer diagnosis."

There will be 150,000 new cases of colon and rectal cancer in 2022, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society. It is among the most diagnosed cancers in the United States.

One screening tool for colorectal cancers is a colonoscopy. However, Chin said it can be invasive and time consuming. 

Another, less invasive option is a test known as a fecal immunochemical test, or FIT test, which can be done at home. Chin said with a FIT test, medical professionals examine a person's stool for microscopic amounts of blood.

"This is a really unique test, in that it can be completed in the privacy of your own home and bathroom," said Chin. "It doesn't require a medical visit or any sedation, or any colon preparation, and definitely doesn't require you to take any time off of work."

Chin said the FIT test is as reliable as a colonoscopy for average-risk patients but has to be done every year. About nine in ten people whose colorectal cancers are found early and treated are still alive five years later, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.