Mailing a stool sample could save a life

Cancers of the colon and rectum, the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancers, killed more than 1,000 people in Washington state in the last reporting year. But many people don’t get preventive screening for cancers of the colon and rectum, the fourth most common cancer.

The convenience of mail could change that, thanks to the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) which provides time-saving convenience of mailing a stool sample for lab testing. The presence of blood in the stool sample indicates a need for a followup diagnostic colonoscopy.

“With this accessible alternative, we can screen more patients, and that translates to saving lives,” said Dr. John Dunn, medical director of preventive care for Kaiser Permanente Washington, which recommends colorectal screening for individuals 50 to 75 with an annual FIT kit or colonoscopy every 10 years.

A study done at Kaiser Permanente Washington over a five-year period showed people in the mailed program were up to date on recommended colorectal cancer screening over 30 percent more of the time than people who got usual care. FIT tests were particularly helpful in getting people screened. People who were sent tests were 10 percent more likely to have completed at least one colon cancer screening.

Dunn said colorectal cancer screening “is very effective at detecting cancer and saving lives, but the time commitment for procedure prep and fasting, time away from work, and sedation can result in delays and missed screenings. FIT provides a much more convenient option that can be discussed at a standard doctor visit and can be mailed directly to a patient to complete.”