African American men and women are about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer (CRC) and 40% more likely to die from it than other ethnic groups. Fortunately, CRC can be detected early through screening and that’s why Alameda Health System (AHS) started a pilot program to minimize barriers by conveniently mailing patients at-home fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits.

“Advancing quality care outcomes for our patients always drives the work we do,” said Natalie Curtis, M.D. and medical director of ambulatory health outcomes. “The FIT pilot illustrates AHS’s commitment to health equity for the diverse patients and community we serve.”

Given the disparity in colorectal cancer rates for Black adults, the pilot program’s first FIT mailing in targeted AHS patients aged 50 and older who self-identified as Black, have a primary care physician (PCP) and who have completed a CRC screening in the past.

The patient population was expanded to other ethnic groups for the second mailing. Following each  mailing AHS community outreach workers sent text messages to patients reminding them to complete and return their FIT kits. Of the over 200 kits mailed, more than 100 were returned and 13 had positive test results.

Building on the momentum of the pilot, Curtis shared that in 2023 AHS will again mail FIT kits on a quarterly basis to patients who are due for CRC screenings. “Our key takeaways from the initial FIT pilot include minimizing barriers to colorectal cancer screening may lead to higher rates of screening overall, and that AHS system-led initiatives and bulk actions can take pressure of PCPs who have so many competing demands,” she said.

Curtis shared that the pilot was an integrated effort with ambulatory services in collaboration with pathology.

Valerie Ng, M.D. and chair of pathology shared she and her team prepared months in advance by ordering enough FIT supplies for the mailing and processing of the FIT kits. “Any additional testing we can do to catch possible CRC early when it is curable is incredibly impactful for our patients’ health and a great sense of pride for our team.”

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) the most common symptoms of colorectal cancer can include:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
  • Cramping or pain in the abdomen
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Losing weight without trying

However, when it comes to colorectal cancer the most common symptom is no symptom at all which is why screening is key to early detection.

All men and women should be screened for colorectal cancer. Individual risk factors such as ethnicity, lifestyle and family history will determine when you should start getting checked.  The ACS recommends that adults without a family history should begin colorectal cancer screening at 45 years old.

For more information about colorectal cancer, visit the American Cancer Society .