A local healthcare center is mailing 1,000 colon cancer test kits

This comes as Southwest Virginia is seeing more deaths from colon cancer

ROANOKE, VA. – There are fewer cases of colon cancer in Southwest Virginia, but more people are dying from it in our area.

That’s because even though it’s recommended that people who are 45 years or older should keep up to date with their screenings, this isn’t the case.

“In general, when we look at the data across Virginia, we see trends in Southwest Virginia for there to be a lower incidence of colorectal cancer but a higher mortality rate for colorectal cancer, and this is really indicative of folks in Southwest Virginia being under-screened for colorectal cancer,” said Professor Jaime Zoellner with the University of Virginia Medical Center.

Zoellner, who also works at the University of Virginia Cancer Center, said when people finally go to the doctors to be screened, they usually have later-stage diagnoses.

The American Cancer Society reported about 64% of Americans were up to date with their tests in 2020. About 66% of Virginians are up to date with their colorectal screenings. Also, at the Community Health Center of the New River Valley, a little more than half of its patients are up to date with their screenings this year.

It’s estimated that about 152,000 people will be diagnosed with colon and rectum cancer this year, as reported by the American Cancer Society. In Virginia, about 4,000 people were diagnosed last year with colon and rectum cancer.

Leaders at the Community Health Center of the New River Valley are hoping to boost their screening numbers up to 80% by mailing about 1,000 fecal immunochemical test kits, also known as FIT kits, to its patients who are 45 years or older and not up to date with their screenings this year. The Community Health Center of the New River Valley has patients from Montgomery, Floyd, Giles, Pulaski, Radford and some people from Roanoke and Salem.

It’s helping us to educate and communicate the need to have this done and start with this first step of the FIT screening. So, they do the at-home test. They either send it to the lab or send it to us, and we send it to the lab and then those results are provided to us, and we can then continue to help the patient if there are any next steps that are actually needed based upon whether it was a positive or a negative result of that FIT test.

CEO Michelle Brauns with the Community Health Center of the New River Valley

The test is different from a colonoscopy. You will collect a sample of your stool for the test.

“One of the biggest differences with the FIT is it doesn’t require any prep. It can be completed in a person’s home on their own schedule at their own time. However, one of the things to consider with the FIT is that it is an annual test,” said Zoellner.

She also said you’ll need to get a colonoscopy every 10 years.

Zoellner also said the FIT kit has other benefits for patients at the Community Health Center of the New River Valley.

“We know with health centers, like the Community Health Center of the New River Valley, we know that individuals served by these health centers tend to be lower resourced, so, access to care can be a bit problematic for these patients. We also know that having GI specialists in rural areas to do colonoscopies is also problematic [given that] there’s not enough providers,” said Zoellner.

She said the FIT kit helps with access to care and any transportation issues.

So far, the Community Health Center of the New River Valley started mailing the kits out in November. So far, the center mailed more than 100 kits to its patients, and they said about 30% to 40% of its patients returned their kits.

“It’s been successful so far. Our patients have really responded to the personal connections that they’ve made with our nurse care coordinators and our cancer screening navigators,” said Brauns.

One came back positive. Doctors said if someone gets a positive test result, the patient will be notified and referred to a colonoscopy to confirm.

“We really do feel like this is going to be the golden ticket to get these patients up to date with their annual CRC screening,” said Zoellner.

About the Author

Keshia Lynn is a Multimedia Journalist for WSLS. She was born and raised in Maryland and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law and Society from American University and a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

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