80 by 18 is a National Colorectal Cancer Initiative sponsored by more than 1,000 organizations, including the American Cancer Society, that have committed themselves to substantially reducing the number of deaths caused by colorectal cancer by increasing the percentage of the population screened to 80 percent or more by 2018.

Colorectal cancer remains the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. We know screening saves lives. By removing pre-cancerous growths or polyps from the colon with colonoscopy, many cancers can be and have been prevented, and by finding colon cancer early before symptoms appear, we can improve survival in nine out of 10 patients with the disease.

Despite having effective screening tools for some time, we are still not achieving our goals. In 2016, only 67 percent of adults age 50 to 75 were up to date on screening nationally. Nationwide, the percentage of adults who were up to date with colorectal cancer screening went up by nearly 2 percent between 2012 and 2016, meaning 5 million more people were screened. Unfortunately, about one third have not been screened as recommended.

Although colonoscopy has been and remains the gold standard for screening, there are new tools in the toolbox.

A new stool-based test that looks for fragments of DNA shed from tumor cells and advanced polyps can be effective in picking up more than 90 percent of colon cancers and 50 to 60 percent of advanced polyps. Simple, safe, non-invasive and inexpensive relative to colonoscopy, not requiring any bowel prep or special diet, not resulting in missed work and covered by almost all insurance plans, it may be just the tool we need to push our screening rates over our goal. The test, marketed under the name Cologuard, is only appropriate for average-risk individuals ages 50 to 75. It is not intended to replace diagnostic colonoscopy for symptoms or bleeding, and not advisable for those with a personal or family history of polyps or colon cancer. However, it may be just what we need to reach those average-risk individuals who have not availed themselves of colonoscopy in the past.

Remember, the best screening test is the one that gets done. Ask your primary-care provider what test is most appropriate for you.

This week’s Health Talk Article was written by Juanita Morris, nurse practitioner at Rutland Digestive Services. Learn more at www.rrmc.org.

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