Colon cancer screening rates went up by nearly 40% in a Kaiser Permanente study that mailed test kits to patients’ homes. The pilot study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was part of a program to address disparities among uninsured, low-income and Latino patients.

The findings are to be published in the journal BMC Cancer.

Lead author Dr. Gloria Coronado, epidemiologist and senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, says:

“We are very happy that so many of the patients who received the screening kits in the mail actually completed the tests and mailed them back.”

The study involved 869 patients registered with three community health clinics in metropolitan areas in Portland, Oregon. Most of the patients in the health clinics were Latinos living below the poverty line and around half of them had no health insurance.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among Americans, yet one third of adults do not undergo proper screening.

Dr. Coronado explains that “colon cancer screening rates are low among the general population, but even lower among minorities and those without health insurance.” She adds that this pilot is part of a “larger STOP Colon Cancer study, which aims to increase screening among thousands more patients who receive their care from community health clinics.”

For the study, Dr. Coronado and her colleagues arranged for an introductory letter – in English and Spanish – explaining the home test kit and colorectal cancer screening, to be mailed to 112 patients with one of the clinics. This letter was followed 2 weeks later with a mailed stool test kit.

If the tests weren’t returned within 3 weeks, the patients received reminder postcards.

For the second clinic, 101 patients received the same mailings over the same timescale: the letter, then the test kit and then the reminder postcard. Except, in this case, if test kits weren’t returned within a month, the patients also got a reminder phone call.

With the third clinic, the researchers enlisted 656 patients as controls. These did not receive a stool test kit by mail, but they had the option of having a screening test as part of routine visits to the clinic.

When they reviewed the results, the researchers found that only 1% of the controls had completed a stool test, compared with 39% of the patients who received tests in the mail, and 37% who were also reminded by phone.

Co-author Dr. Tanya Kapka, a family physician at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, that operated the three clinics in the study, says:

Many patients don’t understand that a simple stool test called FIT, or fecal immunochemical test, can save their lives.”

“The FIT test can be done at home,” she adds, “it only takes a few minutes, and, if conducted annually, is effective for determining which patients are most likely to have colon cancer.”

The NIH is funding an extension of the pilot to cover 26 federally qualified health centers in Oregon and California.

Meanwhile, Medical News Today, recently learned how researchers at MIT have brought closer the day when we have a cheap urine test for cancer. Their experimental version uses injected nanoparticles to find diseased tissue, upon which they release a cascade of biomarkers that can be detected in urine samples, rather like a home pregnancy test.