At-home colon cancer screenings are an acceptable alternative to colonoscopies for many patients.
A couple of different tests are available for at-home use by patients.
Providing options can increase colon cancer screening rates, outcomes, and patient satisfaction.
Colonoscopies performed at a medical facility are a highly effective form of preventative care. But patients may be deterred by a fear of pain, a history of negative experiences, or an unwillingness to do the required preparation.
The most effective colon cancer screening is the one your patient is willing to do.
Fortunately, screening options such as at-home tests can help cast a wider net and engage patients who might otherwise delay or refuse screenings.
Q&A with a patient
MDLinx spoke with a patient named Yla Flores about her experience with at-home colon cancer screening. Here’s what she had to say.
How did you first learn about at-home colon cancer screenings?
I first learned about an at-home colon cancer screening during a well-woman visit. My doctor mentioned she could send a kit to my home.
Why did you choose to go this route?
Since I was leading a busy lifestyle, I was looking at it as a time-saver. It was a win-win for me. I could get screened and save time.
Did you have any questions or hesitations about using an at-home test?
Not at all! I was actually relieved that I would not need to be put under anesthesia and miss a whole day of work. Plus, I would’ve had to have someone drive me who wasn't busy, which was also a task.
Tell us about the conversation you had with your doctor about at-home screening.
My doctor said it was very simple. She would order a kit to come to my home, and she said just to follow the instructions and take the box to UPS the next day.
Yla said she would “100%” recommend at-home testing to others.
"It was so simple! The instructions were numbered and easy to follow. Packing it back up to send in was just as easy."
— Yla Flores
At-home test options
Studies show that colon cancer is rising in younger populations and developed nations. In the US, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer and cancer death, according to the CDC. Nonetheless, many patients are reluctant to get tested because they view the procedure as too much of a burden or underestimate their risk of disease.
At-home colon cancer tests offer a practical, easy-to-use alternative to reluctant or squeamish patients.
The tests evaluate stool samples obtained by the patient for blood or cancer biomarkers. Patients follow the instructions on the kit and mail it to the lab for analysis.
Since there’s no prep required, patients don’t need to take time off work, arrange for a ride, or disrupt their eating habits as needed with a colonoscopy.Related: At-home colorectal screening: A convenient, noninvasive option
Gateway to further testing
While home tests may be more prone to false positives and don’t allow for polyp removal, they can be an entryway to further testing in otherwise reluctant patients, according to JAMA research. In addition, stool testing is more affordable to patients without insurance, but all types of screenings are typically covered to an extent.
Unfortunately, many clinicians don’t feel they have the time needed to introduce different types of screenings to their patients.
Developing a plan to present screening alternatives to patients (either by delegating it to other staff or providing written materials or a video for patients to review) can help streamline the process of educating them about their options and ensuring they don’t fall off the radar for screening.
To help educate patients on colon cancer care options, physicians may want to suggest they visit BlueHQ.org, a website from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. On this site, they can access a customized dashboard offering information and resources based on their user profile, as well as additional tools, services, discussion forums, and support.
However it is achieved, when patients are educated on the benefits of undergoing screening for colon cancer, they will hopefully utilize an available option such as home testing and take advantage of this valuable health strategy.
What this means for you
Like many patients, Yla wasn’t familiar with at-home colon cancer screenings until her clinician mentioned it. When healthcare professionals inform their patients about screening options, they improve the likelihood of patients following through with the testing. Partnering with your patients to find the best solutions for their lifestyles can keep them from becoming non-compliant or delaying critical tests.