VA Maryland Health Care System Encourages Veterans to Get Screened for Colorectal Cancer

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A study at 42 VA medical centers is underway to compare two strategies for colorectal cancer screening to determine which can best reduce death from colorectal cancer.

Screening for colorectal cancer can be lifesaving. We hope to learn the best way to screen for colorectal cancer so we can prevent our Veterans from dying from it,” says Erik vonRosenvinge, Gastroenterology chief at VA Maryland Health Care System.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. and one of the most preventable cancers. Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth in the bowel called a polyp. If polyps are found and removed before they become cancerous, then colorectal cancer can be prevented. Additionally, if colorectal cancer is caught early by screening ― before symptoms develop ― then it can most often be cured. Research has shown in several randomized controlled trials that screening using stool tests that detect microscopic blood reduces the colon cancer mortality rate by 13-33 percent, but some experts maintain that a colonoscopy, which is invasive and more expensive, is the best screening approach.

Because the best screening approach remains unclear, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has decided to conduct a large randomized, multicenter study — 50,000 Veterans at more than 40 VA medical centers across the nation — to answer the question of which screening strategy is best. The study is evaluating two different screening methods: the “FIT kit” approach consists of annual stool tests that accurately detect microscopic blood, while the colonoscopy is a test performed under sedation during which a physician advances a slender tube with a light and camera at the end throughout the colon. Both tests have been shown beneficial, but which is best?

“Screening for colorectal cancer can be lifesaving. We hope to learn the best way to screen for colorectal cancer so we can prevent our Veterans from dying from this disease,” says Erik von Rosenvinge, chief of Gastroenterology for the VA Maryland Health Care System and the Principal Investigator of the study’s Baltimore VA Medical Center site, which currently has enrolled more than 20 Veterans.

The study, now underway at the Baltimore VA Medical Center on Greene Street, excludes individuals for whom colonscopy is indicated due to signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, first degree family member with colorectal cancer, personal history of colorectal polyps or cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease. The study will recruit participants for two and a half years with a 10-year follow-up for enrollees.

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Rosalia Scalia
Veterans Health Administration
410-605-7464
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