Posts

Colorectal cancer (CRC) screening is a vital preventative method to detect and remove a polyp and to diagnose cancer before it advances to an incurable stage. CRC screening options include endoscopy and stool-based testing. Now a new study that surveyed unscreened individuals at average risk for CRC has found that people have a preference for the stool-based screening option. 

The third most diagnosed cancer in the U.S., over 5 million people worldwide currently live with CRC. One method of CRC screening is a colonoscopy, which detects swollen, abnormal tissues, polyps, or cancer in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Another form of CRC screening is the fecal immunochemical test (FIT). FIT is one of the most widely used CRC screening methods globally and is an affordable screening tool for studying large populations. FIT detects hidden blood in stool, a potential early sign of cancer, and it has an overall 95% diagnostic accuracy for CRC. 

It is estimated that 106,180 new colon cancer cases and 44,850 new rectal cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022. With the screening age for CRC for average-risk adults lowered to 45 years, we need a better understanding of what the various age groups may prefer as a screening option to improve compliance and screening rates. 

The new study that was published has found that individuals in the 40-49 age group and those ≥50 years prioritized test modality above effectiveness when choosing their screening test. The findings of this study demonstrate that:

  • Both 40-49-years-old and ≥50-year-old age groups preferred FIT-fecal DNA every three years
  • The second preferred test for both age groups was a colon video capsule, or capsule endoscopy, every five years 
  • Regarding only the USPSTF tier 1 tests, both age groups preferred an annual FIT over a colonoscopy every ten years
    • 68.9% of 40-49-year-olds and 77.4% of ≥50-year-old participants preferred an annual FIT

These results conflict with current CRC screening approaches in the U.S., where colonoscopy is the screening test customarily used. Furthermore, these findings prompt the modification of current CRC screening guidelines and suggest that healthcare providers consider sequential-based screening procedures where FIT is offered before colonoscopy. The results, however, are consistent with a 2007 study, which supports the effectiveness of providing FIT before colonoscopy—the percentage of patients that were up-to-date with screening increased by almost 50% between 2000 and 2015 when they were offered direct-to-patient annual FIT outreach with colonoscopy. 

Scheduling delays and longer waiting times for colonoscopies have increased as millions of newly eligible individuals need a colonoscopy, all of which can strain resources and delay access and early screening for patients, especially for those at greater risk for CRC. Sequential approaches for CRC screening, such as those that offer FIT before colonoscopy, can help acknowledge and adjust to the increased need for screening and the lack of resources and help prioritize access to colonoscopy for those at greater risk for CRC.

 

Sahar Alam is a Colorectal Cancer Prevention Intern with the Colon Cancer Foundation.

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has sparked controversy—this 10-year study involving nearly 85,000 participants in Europe highlighted that colonoscopies cut the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) only by about a fifth, far below estimates from earlier scientific studies, and didn’t substantially reduce deaths, raising the possibility that the invasive procedure is not worth it. Doctors in the U.S. are now concerned that the study’s results could cause doubt about the effectiveness of a colonoscopy, which is a recommended CRC screening approach for those 45 and older, to be conducted once in ten years. Despite the confusion about the effectiveness of colonoscopies, national news articles and gastroenterologists in the U.S. have rebuked these conclusions. 

A major limitation that experts found with the study was that only 42% of the people who were invited to get a colonoscopy actually had one. However, researchers still reported the outcomes for the entire cohort, regardless of whether or not they underwent a colonoscopy. The study found that of those who were invited to have a colonoscopy—whether they got it or not—there was an 18% reduction in developing the disease and no statistically significant reduction in the likelihood of CRC death. Many don’t believe that this is representative of what happens in the U.S., where colonoscopy is more widely accepted as a standard screening protocol compared to European countries, and was a serious shortcoming of the study. In fact, when the individuals who did not get a colonoscopy were removed from the study, the risk of developing CRC among those who did get a colonoscopy reduced by an estimated 31% and the risk of death reduced by about 50%.

As Robin Mendelsohn, MD, co-director of the Center for Young Onset Colorectal and Gastrointestinal Cancers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, argues “in order for a colonoscopy to be effective, you have to have it done”.

Andrew Albert, MD, a member of the Colon Cancer Foundation (CCF)’s Interdisciplinary Medical Advisory Council (IMAC), said, “While the NordICC trial demonstrates the need for challenging the status quo related to colonoscopy, this remains an effective screening tool, particularly for individuals at average risk who may be on the fence about going in for screening. Misinformation is dangerous, especially in healthcare. If we miss catching colorectal cancer at an early stage—which is what a colonoscopy is very good at—it can have a big impact on survival. We need to remember that CRC is preventable, and treatable when caught early.”

IMAC member Matthew A. Weissman, MD, MBA, FAAP, told CCF, “I hope that the findings of this study, which have been taken out of context by many, will not discourage folks from getting screened for colon cancer by colonoscopy or other appropriate methods, which is extremely important in early detection (and prevention) of this deadly disease.”

In an accompanying editorial in the same issue, experts point to the need for a longer follow-up time for the impact of screening colonoscopy to be realized. They also point out that the skill of the endoscopist conducting the procedure has a significant impact on the detection rate—29% of endoscopists in the trial had an adenoma detection rate below the recommended 25%. 

Consequent to this study, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) issued a public statement that colonoscopy remains the best and most proven way to detect and prevent CRC incidence and death. The American Cancer Society also weighed in on the study, pointing to the high number of participants who didn’t undergo the procedure. Adam Lessne, MD, a gastroenterologist at Gastro Health in Florida told VeryWell Health that “when you take away the limitations, it’s proven again that colonoscopies do save lives and they do reduce the risk of death.” 

The bottom line is that a screening test of any kind—stool-based or colonoscopy—is better than none, and CRC is preventable with regular screening. For detailed information on various CRC screening methods and current screening guidelines, visit this page on the Colon Cancer Foundation’s website. 

 

Kitty Chiu is a Colorectal Cancer Prevention Intern with the Colon Cancer Foundation.

Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to sharp declines in cancer screening rates. Screening tests were halted as national lockdowns began as healthcare centers needed to prioritize COVID-19 patients. A retrospective cohort study revealed that during the early days of the pandemic in 2020, fewer fecal immunochemical test (FIT) screenings and colonoscopies resulted in fewer patients being diagnosed with colorectal cancer (CRC) and advanced adenomas than in 2019. In April 2020, colonoscopy volumes were significantly lower than in April 2019, with a 26.9% decrease in colonoscopy volume. Overall, there was an 8.7% reduction in CRC cases diagnosed by colonoscopy in 2020. This has fueled concerns of a potential negative impact on cancer prevention and care.

The study mentioned above analyzed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on CRC screening and diagnostic testing among 18-89 year-olds enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health plan in 2019 and 2020. Researchers measured changes in the number of mailed, completed, and positive FITs; colonoscopies; and cases of colorectal neoplasia detected by colonoscopy. Findings show that when the pandemic-related stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, there was a dramatic decline in FIT mailings. Similarly, in South Australia, retrospective analysis on surveillance colonoscopy in patients at high risk for CRC revealed that there was a 51.1% decrease in surveillance colonoscopy procedures from April–June 2019 compared to April–June 2020, the period where the region faced the most difficulty due to COVID-19. 

The reduction in CRC screenings during the pandemic suggests that patients may have been reluctant or unable to undergo screening. Furthermore, challenges with pre-pandemic CRC screening were amplified during the pandemic. For instance, stress levels in the general population increased and those who may have skipped screening due to work obligations were more likely to miss setting up a colonoscopy during the pandemic. Fear of contracting COVID-19 may have been another barrier. Another issue that was evident during the pandemic was healthcare inequities that disproportionately impacted medically-underserved communities. 

Given the massive delays in traditional methods of screening, healthcare centers had to develop alternative approaches to ensure continued screening after the initial wave of COVID-19, such as the increased adoption of telehealth services. For CRC screening, the use of FIT was arguably the best alternative to colonoscopy procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. This remote option gives patients a lot of flexibility with their screening, as they are able to take the test safely in the comfort of their own homes. 

These findings may help inform the development of strategies for CRC screening and diagnostic testing during future national emergencies. 

 

Kitty Chiu is a Colorectal Cancer Prevention Intern with the Colon Cancer Foundation. 

A friendly bet resulted in a potentially life-saving procedure for actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Reynolds bet McElhenney that if he learned to speak Welsh, Reynolds would let a camera crew document him as he underwent a colonoscopy. In partnership with Lead from Behind, Reynolds documented and shared his experience on YouTube

Both Reynolds and McElhenney turned 45-years-old this year. In May 2021, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) revised the colorectal cancer (CRC) screening age for average-risk adults to 45 years instead of 50. Reynolds noted in his video description, “I made a bet. I lost. But it still paid off.” Reynolds’ colonoscopy, conducted by Jonathan LaPook, MD, a gastroenterologist with NYU Langone’s Colon Cancer Screening and Prevention Program, resulted in the detection and removal of an “extremely subtle polyp” on the right side of his colon. McElhenney also decided to undergo a colonoscopy, which resulted in the identification of three polyps. Dr. LaPook emphasized, “This [colonoscopy] saves lives. Pure and simple.”

Importance of Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most diagnosed cancer and over 5 million people worldwide currently live with CRC. According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing CRC is 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women, and recent research indicates an increased incidence of CRC among individuals younger than 50 years of age. There will be an estimated 106,180 new colon cancer cases and 44,850 new rectal cancer cases in the United States in 2022. While CRC screening rates have significantly improved over the past 20 years, only 65%-70% of age-eligible individuals achieve screening nationally. Screening is a significantly effective and preventive method to detect CRC before it advances to an incurable stage. 

When to Schedule a Colonoscopy

The American Cancer Society and USPSTF recommend screening should begin at 45 years for average-risk adults. Individuals who are at a higher risk of developing CRC may need to be screened earlier.

What to Expect During a Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy detects swollen, abnormal tissues, polyps, or cancer in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Before a colonoscopy, patients are required to empty their colon by following a specific diet recommended by their doctor, taking a prescribed laxative, and adjusting any daily medications as instructed by their doctor. On the day of the procedure, a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted into the patient’s rectum under anesthesia. A tiny camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to view the colon. If polyps and abnormal tissues are detected, they can be removed during the colonoscopy itself, just like in Reynolds’ and McElhenney’s procedures. According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, more than 40% of adults over the age of 50 years have precancerous polyps in the colon.  

What Are Colorectal Cancer Symptoms?

CRC may not cause symptoms immediately. Screening is the most effective method to detect and remove polyps before they advance into malignant disease. Speak to your doctor if you are 45 or older, have a family history of CRC, or notice any abnormal symptoms.

Remember: CRC survival is 90% if detected at an early stage when the cancer is localized and has not spread to other sites or organs.

Sahar Alam is a Colorectal Cancer Prevention Intern with the Colon Cancer Foundation.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer diagnosis and the second most common cause of cancer death globally. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 106,180 new colon cancer cases and 44,850 new rectal cancer cases in the United States in 2022. Early detection and consistent screening reduce CRC incidence and mortality. A recent randomized controlled trial that analyzed the feasibility, adherence, yield, and related costs of various screening modalities found that a risk-adapted approach is feasible and cost-favorable for population-based screening. 

Current guidelines recommend standardized screening plans for specific age groups, with colonoscopy recommended every 10 years and a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) between 1-3 years. Implementation of risk-stratified screening can potentially allow for more frequent screening and earlier detection of CRC at a population level. This would especially be beneficial for individuals who are at higher risk of CRC. Additionally, risk-stratified screening can help health practitioners detect and introduce plans for CRC treatment at earlier stages.

The National Health Service Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP) recently investigated the potential benefits, costs, and effectiveness of risk-stratified breast cancer screening with BC-Predict, a platform that collects self-reported risk factor information for breast cancer, analyzes the self-reported information, and invites high-risk or moderate-risk women to a conversation about prevention and early detection options. BC-Predict was found to have the potential to reduce breast cancer mortality due to early screening. It also reduced screening in women who are at lower risk, minimizing the number of false positive test results in lower-risk women. The results from this analysis are pertinent to risk-stratified screening for CRC and support the implementation of a risk-adapted approach in CRC screening.

What Did the Study Find?

More than 19,000 participants in the TARGET-C trial conducted in six cities in China were placed into one of the screening arms in a 1:2:2 ratio: 

  • One-time colonoscopy (n=3,883)
  • Annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT) (n=7,793)
  • Annual risk-adapted screening (n=7,697).

The detection rate of advanced colorectal neoplasia, CRC, and advanced precancerous lesions were the main outcomes that were monitored. The follow-up to trace the rate of advanced colorectal neoplasia for all participants was conducted over a 3-year study period. 

Over three screening rounds, the participation rates for colonoscopy, FIT, and risk-adapted screening arms were 42.4%, 99.3%, and 89.2%, respectively. The costs to the for detecting one advanced neoplasm, presented as both Chinese Yuan (CNY) and US dollar, using a package payment format were:

  • CNY6,928 ($1,004) for one-time colonoscopy
  • CNY5,821 ($844) for annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
  • CNY6,694 ($970) for annual risk-adapted screening.

These findings underscore the value of a risk-adapted approach for CRC screening for feasibility and cost-effectiveness, as well as for allowing for more frequent screening and earlier detection of CRC for individuals with a high or moderate risk for CRC.

 

Sahar Alam is a Colorectal Cancer Prevention Intern with the Colon Cancer Foundation.

The Colon Cancer Foundation had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Shahnaz Sultan, MD, MHSC, AGAF, about her research team’s findings that pandemic-related pre-procedure COVID-19 testing caused higher rates of endoscopy cancellations among patients from marginalized populations. A Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition and the Program Director for the Gastroenterology Fellowship Training Program at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Sultan’s research interests are focused on reducing colorectal cancer morbidity and mortality by improving adherence and quality of colonoscopy.

Q: What is the main takeaway you want people to understand from your research?

One of the most important things we want to emphasize is that colorectal cancer [CRC] is a very preventable cancer and there is a lot of high-quality evidence that shows that screening for CRC actually leads to a reduction in associated mortality. We really need to think about CRC screening along a continuum—whether you are doing stool-based testing or you’re getting a colonoscopy, it’s a multi-step process, and at every step, we need to be cognizant about reducing barriers and helping patients complete their CRC screening tests. Adding another step that patients have to complete prior to colonoscopy, such as pre-procedure SARS-CoV2 testing, in addition to completing their bowel prep, following dietary guidelines, finding transportation, and coming in to get a colonoscopy, really makes it that much more challenging. Pre-procedure testing serves as one more step and one more possible barrier in terms of getting people up-to-date with their screening. 

Q: As you were conducting your research, were there any findings that surprised you?

Our objective here was to understand the impact of pre-procedure COVID-19 testing—we wanted to see the magnitude of the impact and who was specifically affected by this additional requirement. When we looked at the canceled outpatient endoscopy procedures in our cohort from March 2021 to September 2021, we were surprised that the overall cancellation rate was so high in terms of getting people to complete their colonoscopy. Among the 574 cancellations, a little under 10% were due to pre-procedure COVID-19 testing requirements, and a good proportion of the remainder, about 51%, were patient-initiated cancellations. There were a lot of additional factors that were potentially holding people back from CRC screening. Additionally, we were surprised that pre-procedure testing was disproportionately affecting certain populations. Persons who self-identified as Black, American Indian, Alaskan Native, or Hispanic were more likely to have testing-related cancellations. 

Dr. Shahnaz Sultan

Q: Of the patients who canceled their colonoscopy, do we know if they went for an alternate form of testing for colorectal cancer, such as stool-based testing?

That’s an interesting question! We do not have that health data within our health system, but you bring up a good point. During the pandemic, a lot of other health systems were shifting gears from colonoscopy to stool-based testing and using programmatic efforts to directly reach out to patients to make sure they were getting some form of CRC screening. 

Q: Healthcare challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have demonstrated to significantly disrupt CRC screening procedures and participation, especially for medically underserved communities. What steps can be taken or what policies can be implemented in the future to support CRC screening participation and prevent significant disruptions to CRC screening?                                              

There is a lot of ongoing research to understand different barriers we can address or different interventions we can take to improve screening at the population level. We really need a multifaceted or multi-pronged approach to screening. We really need to think about interventions that not only focus on patients, but we also need to target providers, health systems, and community leaders, and think about national and federal policy decisions. I think there are a lot of opportunities to decrease barriers at different levels in terms of getting people to be more up-to-date with screening at a population level.

In terms of policy, one of the things that we have been able to fix recently is this loophole that existed in the past where if a test was done for screening purposes, but polyps were removed, then it was no longer counted as a screening test, and that incurred copayments and additional burdens on patients. I think that has been a real coup for us in the gastroenterology community and overall in terms of helping to support the care of our patients. Also, I think there are a lot of opportunities at the national level to support programmatic efforts to improve screening for populations that are underinsured or don’t have access to care, and I think we need to do more outreach and find ways to include health educators and patient navigators. We need to make sure we are educating patients about the importance of screening and helping address financial or logistical barriers that might serve as additional challenges for patients to overcome.

Continued on Page 2.

Colonoscopy is the most effective test for colorectal cancer (CRC) screening and prevention. This procedure minimizes the incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer through early detection. During a colonoscopy, a physician inserts, and threads a flexible tube with a tiny camera called a colonoscope into the rectum and through the entire colon, or large intestine. This helps identify abnormal growths and excise any polyps which can then be sent for diagnosis.

However, research has shown that despite being the gold-standard for CRC screening, 23-30% of adenomas are overlooked and missed during a traditional colonoscopy, the success of which can vary depending on operator skills.

“Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and it is one of the few cancers that can be prevented if caught early,” said Aasma Shaukat, MD, MPH at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the Robert M. and Mary H. Glickman Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology and Director of Outcomes Research for the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. “Our mission remains to improve and enhance the quality and efficacy of the colonoscopy across the board to provide the best care for patients.”  

In order to improve the efficiency and efficacy of colonoscopies, Dr. Shaukat and her team have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) platform to assist endoscopists. The findings of their  prospective, randomized, multicenter collaborative study to test the AI platform were recently published in the journal Gastroenterology. Between January and September 2021, twenty-two skilled, board-certified gastroenterologists performed colonoscopies on 1,440 patients. The patients were randomized to receive a traditional colonoscopy or a colonoscopy with computer-aided detection software —the software detects colorectal polyps during high-definition white-light colonoscopy procedures. This device can identify potential polyps and identify areas of concern, refining the results of the procedure in real-time. 

The researchers found that using AI during a screening colonoscopy increased the adenoma per colonoscopy rate by 22%: from 0.82 to 1.05. This evidence indicates that AI can be an effective and efficient tool for gastroenterologists and endoscopists to reduce the number of overlooked polyps left behind in the colon, many of which can be precancerous. 

Dr. Shaukat states, “Our findings add to the growing amount of literature that shows using computer-aided technology during an endoscopy procedure can improve the quality of exams performed and improve outcomes for our patients. Several software technologies are currently available for clinicians and incorporating the use of these resources will only enhance the care we provide our patients and improve the quality of exams we as physicians are able to perform.”

Sahar Alam is a Colorectal Cancer Prevention intern with the Colon Cancer Foundation.

Mom, wife, realtor, runner, cellist, and colon cancer survivor for five and a half years. Suzanne Miller was taken aback when she was diagnosed with Stage I colon cancer at the age of 40. Colorectal cancer screenings start at 45 years for average-risk adults. She was in good health, trained for marathons, and ate well. Luckily, she was able to undergo surgery on November 18, 2016, to remove the cancer. 

Suzanne realized she aspired to turn this event in her life into something good rather than dwelling on the fact that she had cancer. Since her surgery, on the 18th of each month, she spreads awareness by posting on Instagram and Facebook to remind individuals to “keep their rear in the clear.” Everyone who is over 45, under 45 with symptoms, or has a family history of colon or rectal cancer should get screened for colorectal cancer. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer should start screenings at 40 years or 10 years prior to the earliest diagnosis age in their family.

Survivor and Colon Cancer Awareness Advocate

Suzanne came across the Colon Cancer Foundation (CCF) while she was researching for a marathon to run in New York while raising money for a charity. She reached out to the Foundation and planned to run in the 2020 marathon, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That didn’t dampen Suzanne’s spirit. She completed the marathon in her hometown and raised the money with support from her friends and family members who participated in the run. She looks forward to running again in the 2023 Colon Cancer Challenge.

This past February, as a CCF Champion, Suzanne and her husband were invited to attend the Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Arizona. She represented CCF and was able to meet 90 other like-minded individuals who shared her passion to make a difference and prevent early onset of colon cancer. Inspired to raise money and awareness in her hometown, Suzanne partnered with her husband’s golf club to hold a fundraising golf tournament on May 16, 2022. She was supported in her efforts by her friend, a 10-year colon cancer survivor who also works to spread colorectal cancer awareness. The event had 10 sponsors, 13 teams, and 20 hole sponsors that covered most of the costs. Half of the profits will go to their local nonprofit, CRC Life, and the other half will go to CCF.

Suzanne emphasizes that people need to be more comfortable discussing colon cancer, as they do other topics. Ever since she began raising awareness on social media, Suzanne has received messages from individuals when they received a colonoscopy, got a polyp removed, or discovered they have a family history of colon cancer. Through her experience as a young, healthy woman diagnosed with colon cancer, she brings attention to the fact that cancer does not discriminate. She always tells individuals to remind their friends and family to get a colonoscopy. “Even having one person find out that they do not have cancer is a win,” she says. Suzanne loves that we live in a world where we can speak our mind, while being kind and courteous, and have people that listen and don’t discount the matter at hand. 

 

Kenadi Kaewmanaprasert is an intern with the Colon Cancer Foundation.