Bobby Hall, a technician at Albany Area Laboratory on East Broad Avenue, conducts a fecal imunochemical test Thursday to detect blood in a stool sample.Blood in a stool can be an indicator of colorectal cancer.
ALBANY, Ga. — Colonoscopies are done every 10 years as a means to detect problems in the colon, including cancer.
It is a test that is often done as a follow up to other tests utilized to detect problems, one of which is a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) — an at-home test to find hidden blood in the stool, even in small amounts.
While the test has been around for several years, there are updated versions of it that are beginning to be used by the Albany area’s patient base.
The test involves a packet that a patient is given at their doctor’s office. In it are the materials needed to collect a sample, and a device used to collect a trace amount — from more than one spot in the sample — and put it into a container for it to be sent back to a laboratory where a test is done to detect the presence of blood.
“If the test comes back positive, the patient will definitely need a colonoscopy,” said Eunice Hood, manager with the Albany Area Laboratory on East Broad Avenue.
Most versions of the test come with a device a patient uses to stab a sample in more than one spot — in order to increase the odds of finding any blood that might be there — and conceal the device in a tube. When the lab receives it, the technician opens the tube and tests the specimen inside.
Once the test begins, it only takes five minutes to determine whether follow-up tests are needed.
“There are no diet restrictions,” Hood said. “It only detects human blood; a small amount of human blood.”
Blood in the stool is a fairly common sign of colorectal cancer, which is identified by the National Cancer Institute as being among the top leading causes of cancer death in the United States.
While there are some patients who do not comply by failing to send the tests back, there is an advantage to not making them do it in a doctor’s office.
“It is important that they can do the collection in their own private space,” said Dr. Tibor Gyorfi, pathologist and director of the Albany Area Laboratory, which is connected to the Albany Area Primary Health Care system. “It only takes a few minutes.
“Colorectal cancer is still a surgical disease. It needs to be removed while it is localized. If not, survival will be significantly less. That is why it is very important to get tested regularly.”
The FIT procedure is generally recommended for individuals aged 50-75 on an annual basis. Currently, there are plans in the works to make such tests more readily available in community health centers throughout Georgia interested in carrying it.
There are even efforts in place to eventually make it more accessible at a regional level, Gyorfi said.
“In the future, we could potentially offer it on a walk-in basis (at the Albany lab),” he said. “There is a potential to offer it to anyone who wants to do it. I would like to go in that direction; making it available widely as possible.
“It would be manageable for everyone.”
There are instructions given to the patient on how to use it. Once a technician receives it, he or she can tell whether the sample is positive or negative based on the number of lines that appears on the strip it is dipped into — one line for negative, two lines for positive.
“Anybody can do (and read) this test,” Gyorfi said.
Even though blood in the stool might be indicative of cancer, there are other causes, such as a mechanical injury to the bowel, Gyorfi said.
“(That is why) we have to rule out cancer,” the pathologist said. “When a (FIT) test is positive, follow-up examinations have to be done to determine the source of the bleeding.”
Flexible sigmoidoscopy — a procedure in which a lighted tube is used to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the lower third of the colon — is another common test utilized for colorectal cancer, which is typically recommended every five years with a FIT every three years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Colonoscopies, used in the event anything unusual is found during another one of the tests, works the same way as a flexible sigmoidoscopy — only with a longer tube.
Survival rates over a five-year period for colorectal cancer range from 74 percent in Stage 1 to 6 percent in Stage 4, statistics available from the American Cancer Society show. The National Cancer Institute suggests that the FIT can help reduce the number of deaths due to colorectal cancer by 15-33 percent.