Three years ago, after a routine physical, Albert Prado’s doctor gave him a colon cancer screening test to take home. Sue Williams, MD, explained that the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) — a simple stool test that is easy to do at home — checks for hidden blood in the stool caused by polyps or colon cancer. She urged Prado to complete the test and send it back to her office.
Prado, 77, who lives in Denver and gets his health care at Kaiser Permanente’s Hidden Lake Medical Offices, says he had taken the FIT at home in the past but had neglected to mail it back to the doctor. “Before, I didn’t really pay that much attention to it, but this time I did,’’ Prado says, even though he felt healthy. “I just happened to say ‘I’ll do it,’ this time. So I did and sent it in.’’
Prado is glad he did.
About a week later, Dr. Williams called to tell him the test showed a small amount of blood in his stool. She scheduled him for a colonoscopy, a procedure in which the entire colon is examined.
During Prado’s colonoscopy, the doctor discovered several polyps on the wall of his colon. A biopsy revealed that one was malignant. Prado had colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
“I was scared to death,’’ Prado says. “I had no inclination at all. I hadn’t been feeling bad or anything. I had no pain, no discomfort. I ate whatever I wanted to, even chili.”
Urging Others to Take the Test
Two weeks after the colonoscopy, Prado had surgery at Exempla Good Samaritan Hospital in Lafayette to remove the malignant polyp. The operation was a success. Because doctors caught the cancer early, it had not spread to his other organs.
A recent colonoscopy showed that Prado was cancer-free. Now, Prado tells his family and friends his story and urges them to take the FIT.
“It’s very easy,’’ he says of the test. “It takes maybe 10 seconds. You take a little swipe of your stool, put it in a container and send it back, postage-paid and everything.’’
Often people are reluctant to take the FIT because they don’t want to have a colonoscopy, he adds. “People say, ‘I don’t want that done. I’m scared,’’’ he says. “I tell them that it’s not painful.’’
Many people assume that Prado had symptoms before his cancer was discovered, he says. “They think I was hurting, sick, couldn’t eat, had trouble with bowel movements, but I had none of that,’’ he says. “Everything was completely normal as far as I could tell.”
A Preventable Cancer
Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers because of effective screening options. If you are between the ages of 50 and 75, you should be screened for colon cancer. If someone in your family has had colon cancer, you may need to be screened earlier, so it’s important to tell your health care team about your family history.
Colon cancer in its early stages usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. Symptoms occur later, when the cancer may be harder to treat. Dr. Williams says Prado is a good example of why it is important to be screened for colon cancer. “Catching it early is important,’’ she says.
Prado is certain that taking the FIT saved his life — that and the care of his doctors.
“Dr. Williams is the one that found it,’’ he says, “so she’s the one I’m really thankful for.”
The 6 W’s of Colorectal Cancer Screening
What? Colonoscopy or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT).
Who? Adults between ages 50 and 75 (younger if you have other risk factors or a family history of colon cancer).
When? Repeat the FIT annually or a colonoscopy every 10 years (more frequently if you have a family or personal history of polyps).
Where? FIT kits can be done from home and only take minutes to complete. Colonoscopies are performed by specialized physicians in medical offices, clinics, or hospitals.
Why? Screening can detect cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage.
Which? “Colonoscopy is the most complete test to screen for precancerous colon polyps and cancer,” says Sue Williams, MD, physician lead for Kaiser Permanente’s Women’s Preventive Services. Many members prefer the FIT because it is so easy to complete. “Talk to your health care team about the advantages of both tests,” she adds, “and choose a screening test to complete today.”
Learn more at www.kp.org/cancer.