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Expanding access to colorectal cancer screening and treatment

You can be screened for colorectal cancer from the comfort of your home with an easy-to-use test kit.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so VA is shining a light on the facts about this cancer, who should get screened and why screening is more accessible to Veterans than you might think.

What is colon or colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most common cancers in the United States, and each year VA diagnoses approximately 4,000 new cases of it. VA remains committed to improving colorectal cancer outcomes for all Veterans by increasing screening and access to care.

Who should be screened for colorectal cancer?

The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, and screening is recommended for all adults aged 45 to 75. This cancer typically begins as an asymptomatic growth (polyp) on the lining of the colon or rectum. Screening is crucial to detect polyps early before they have a chance to become cancer or to detect cancer at an early stage when treatment is most effective.

How does colorectal cancer screening work?

The key to screening is early detection, which is why screening is recommended even when symptoms aren’t present. Screening tests for colorectal cancer check for abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. The tests most commonly used by VA include:

Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

Colonoscopy

Fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) is a screening done at home to check for blood in stool that you can’t see, which can be due to polyps or cancer. Flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy are tests that involve placing a thin flexible tube with a camera into the colon to look for abnormalities. Sigmoidoscopy examines about half of the colon when compared to colonoscopy. If either FIT or flexible sigmoidoscopy detect an abnormality, a colonoscopy is necessary. During a colonoscopy, polyps can be removed before they become cancer.

Expanding access to colorectal cancer screening with Mailed FIT

VA’s Mailed FIT Program delivers FIT kits to the homes of Veterans eligible for CRC screening, meaning Veterans have access to high-quality CRC screening without leaving their home. This is not only more convenient for Veterans but also helps increase VA’s CRC screening capacity by offering the test to Veterans without requiring them to visit their VA provider.

Innovation in CRC screening technology at VA

While at-home screening can reduce reliance on colonoscopy for CRC screening, providing high quality colonoscopies is critical for Veterans who need the procedure. In service to that commitment, VA has deployed nearly 300 artificial intelligence (AI) computer-aided detection devices in over 100 VA facilities to increase the detection and removal of precancerous polyps. Over 120,000 colonoscopies have already been performed outfitted with these AI devices since their deployment in late 2022.

Addressing equity in CRC screening for all eligible Veterans

VA is actively working to reduce disparities in CRC screening rates among different groups of Veterans. With programs and services that make screening and cancer care more accessible—like Mailed FIT and National TeleOncology—VA’s National Oncology Program is working in collaboration with offices like the Center for Minority Veterans and the Office of Tribal Government Relations to ensure Veterans receive equal services regardless of race, origin, religion, gender or location.

In alignment with President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot goal of reducing the cancer death rate by half within 25 years, VA is at the forefront, leveraging innovative technology and making screening more accessible for all Veterans.

To learn more about colorectal cancer screening at VA, visit cancer.va.gov or talk to your VA provider.

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