Lisa Schmidt, an oncology nurse navigator at the Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center, shows off free colon cancer screening kits.
Lisa Schmidt, an oncology nurse navigator at the Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center, helps patients with colon cancer screenings and follow-up. Free screenings are available to people who cannot afford them by calling 316-268-5890. (Courtesy art/Ascension Via Christi)

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Kansas, behind lung cancer. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about one in 23 for men and one in 26 for women. However, each person’s risk might be higher or lower, depending on their risk factors. The American Cancer Society recommends colon cancer screenings for everyone ages 45 through 75.

Preventive screenings are free to people with health insurance, required of health plans under the Affordable Care Act. But if you do not have health insurance — or if you require a follow-up test that isn’t free and your deductible is high — help exists in Wichita through Ascension Via Christi. Ascension Via Christi is a national, nonprofit Catholic health system with seven hospitals in Kansas and 75 other care sites. 

Ascension Via Christi’s cancer outreach and risk assessment program offers free colorectal screening kits, while supplies last, at no cost to anyone 45 and older in Kansas. The kits require you to collect and return stool samples. Should your stool sample test positive for blood, a nurse will follow up and arrange a colonoscopy, an inpatient procedure that involves a scope looking inside the colon and polyp removal, if needed. Financial assistance is also available for colonoscopies for individuals who cannot afford one, through a grant from the Colon Cancer Coalition, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that promotes colon cancer screenings. 

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

In 2021, the Ascension Via Christi program distributed 163 kits, of which a dozen of the returned stool samples tested positive for blood, requiring follow-up. Nine participants worked with Lisa Schmidt, an oncology nurse, to schedule colonoscopies; four participants were found to have no evidence of cancer, while five had polyps removed before they had the opportunity to become cancerous.

“For them, the screening and follow-up colonoscopy may well have been a lifesaver,” Schmidt said. “Colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons we have.” 

Schmidt says taking part in the screening is easy: Call 316-268-5890 to arrange for a kit to be mailed to you. Then follow the instructions provided for collecting a stool sample and return it in the self-addressed envelope provided with the kit.

If the sample tests negative, the results will be sent by mail within a few weeks. If the specimen tests positive for traces of blood, an Ascension Via Christi nurse will call you to discuss your results and recommended next steps.

Colon cancer has a nearly 90% five-year survival rate if caught early. Symptoms can include rectal bleeding or blood in stool, changes in bowel habits and changes in bowel appearance. Anyone experiencing any of these should see a doctor. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more, visit the Colorectal Cancer Alliance website.

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Polly Basore Wenzl is the editor of The Wichita Beacon. A graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, she worked as a reporter in Washington, D.C., before coming to Wichita in 1998. She is the author...