Stool-Based Colon Cancer Tests Vary Widely in Accuracy

Zauber, who is also a member of the U.S. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research's Multi-Society Task Force for Colorectal Cancer, said that "this kind of study needs to be done, and we need to assess these tests against colonoscopy."

The current American Cancer Society recommendation is that Americans over 50 at normal risk for colon cancer get a fecal occult blood test every year; sigmoidoscopy (looking at only the lower colon) once every five years; or a full colonoscopy once every 10 years. The recommendations note that colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy are the preferred choices, since they are adept at spotting both cancer and polyps. The FOBT typically finds cancers but not polyps. One government advisory group recommended in 2008 that routine screening for colorectal cancer should not be done for people 75 and older.

More frequent testing is recommended for people at high risk (for example, because of a family history of colorectal cancer) or those with intestinal conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths for American men and women. The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimates that about 50,000 Americans will die of the malignancy this year.

More information

There's more on colon cancer screening at the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Durado Brooks, M.D., director, colorectal cancer, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Ann Zauber, Ph.D., associate attending biostatistician, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City; Feb. 3, 2009, Annals of Internal Medicine

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