Fresno medical center pioneers at-home colon cancer test

FRESNO, Calif.

Dr. Smita Rouillard shows her patients one of the easiest ways to screen for a deadly disease. The Chief of Gastroenterology at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Northeast Fresno says this at home test called "The Fit Test" is mailed to Kaiser members who are age 50 or above and should be screened for colon cancer.

"The at-home stool test is a great way for people to become aware of the risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States," said Dr. Smita Rouillard.

Gayle Cannon credits the fit test for helping to save her life. Her test came back positive -- alerting Doctor Rouillard to a potentially deadly lesion in her colon. After taking the test at home, a patient mails the vial in a pre-paid envelope addressed to Kaiser's lab in Berkeley. If the lab detects blood in the stool, the patient is quickly contacted and referred for a colonoscopy.

Dr. Rouillard says the fit test has become so successful because patients are more comfortable with taking the test at home rather than face the thought of a colonoscopy. But if the test result comes back positive, they're more likely to seek a screening and any resulting treatment.

Dr. Rouillard says since Kaiser's been mailing out fit tests, the death rates from colon cancer among its members has gone down, and doctors are finding cancers much earlier.

Gayle is one of those success stories. At 81, she's still working as a church secretary and is looking forward to a healthy, active life after her surgery, but not without a little humor. "My primary doctor said everything is normal and I said well you didn't check my brain!"

Kaiser's fit test is getting national attention. New York hospitals contacted Kaiser to learn how to implement the fit test into their colon cancer prevention programs.

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