Health agency offers free colon cancer test kits


TAIPEI — The Bureau of Health Promotion launched a trial distribution of colon cancer test kits through the mail Monday in response to the nation’s low screening rate and the growing number of patients diagnosed with the disease. Although colon cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in Taiwan — about 10,000 people are diagnosed and 4,500 die from it each year — only 22 percent of people aged over 50 take the government-funded fecal occult blood test, according to the Department of Health. The test is a simple screening method for colorectal cancer and the government has been subsidizing citizens aged 50 to 69 for free tests every two years since 2004. According to the results of a recent survey conducted by the bureau, 33 percent of the respondents were reluctant to take the test because they were either too busy or thought the screening process is too bothersome. “Some complained of the convenience issue, saying that they have to go to a clinic to get the test kit, go home to provide the sample and then deliver it back to the clinic,” said Shih Lin-yi, acting director of the bureau’s Cancer Control and Prevention Division. The bureau therefore decided to mail free test kits, along with instruction guides, to 120,000 eligible and random candidates across the nation to encourage the public to make use of the free screening program. The first batch of test kits were sent to 100,000 citizens on Jan. 25, she added. As there are about 5 million people in the 50-69 age bracket in Taiwan, Shih said, adding that the bureau will take into consideration the degree of acceptance and the preservation of stool samples through the post to decide whether to expand the trial. “Those who test positive for the fecal occult blood test are advised to visit a hospital for a colonoscopy, an advanced and more thorough screening method for colon cancer,” said Chiu Han-mo, a colorectal cancer screening specialist at National Taiwan University Hospital. Colonoscopy, an invasive screening method that requires anesthesia and can trigger complications such as bleeding, is not suggested for people who have not tested positive during a stool blood test or those who do not fall into the high-risk group, said Chiu.