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Cancer test can be life saver

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The death rate from colon cancer, the second leading cancer killer in the United States, could be reduced by up to a third if more people over 50 started using a simple screening test that detects bleeding in the bowel, researchers say.

In a study published Wednesday, Minnesota researchers say that a study of the long-term health of 46,000 volunteers shows that people who take an annual fecal occult blood test have 33 percent fewer deaths from colon cancer than do people who do not take the test. Among those who are tested every other year, the death rate is reduced by 21 percent, the study found.The study is published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"When you have a positive test for blood, the likelihood of finding a growth in the colon is about 35 percent," said Dr. John H. Bond, the study's co-author. "About 9 percent will have cancer, and the rest will have significant precancerous polyps in the colon."

An analysis of data from the study in 1993 suggested that annual tests could reduce deaths from colon cancer, and a new analysis shows that even biennial tests can have a dramatic effect, said Bond, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and a staff physician at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs.

"It is a very valuable way to identify people who are healthy and have no symptoms, who nevertheless have a developing cancer in their colon."

Prompted by the research results, federal health agencies on Tuesday announced a new campaign to encourage all Americans over 50 to take the fecal occult blood test.