Colorectal Cancer Screening – Here’s What You Need to Know
March just happens to be Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and we wanted to take this opportunity to address a few things. If you are reading this post that probably means you’ve taken the first important step in protecting yourself from this disease– seeking out information. If you saw last year’s post, then you learned that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the US for both men and women. Luckily, it’s highly preventable when detected early on.
So What Makes Colorectal Cancer So Deadly?
Perhaps the main reason that it’s so deadly is because colorectal cancer does not cause any noticeable symptoms during earlier stages. By the time symptoms such as blockage or blood in the stool occur, the disease has often progressed beyond a point where it can be successfully treated by oncologists. We can’t stress enough how important it is to go in for routine colonoscopy screenings, especially after you reach your 50’s.
We’ve discussed in length the importance of other routine screening for breast cancer (annual mammograms) and cervical cancer (Pap smear and HPV test). These are all very deadly diseases which can easily go unnoticed otherwise.
Cases of colorectal cancer nearly always begin as precancerous polyps— an abnormal growth in the colon or rectum. A screening test, such as a colonoscopy, will be able to identify these growths before they even fully develop into cancer. The treatment process at this early stage is really straightforward and simple.
Okay… So How Should I be Tested?
According to the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, the average American should start getting screened for colorectal cancer on a routine basis after 50. Does this mean that you need to get tested every year? Not really. Here’s a breakdown of the current recommendations:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
There are also additional screening tests which are less common:
- Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) every year
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year
- Stool DNA test (sDNA) every 3 years
There are exceptions for these screening guidelines depending on the risk factors that an individual presents with.
What Are the Most Common Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer?
People who present with risk factors for colorectal cancer are actually advised to begin routine screening before they reach the age of 50. Also, they should consider getting tested more frequently than the average person. Here are some risk factors to watch out for:
- Family medical history of inflammatory bowel disease (includes conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Family medical history of precancerous (adenomatous) polyps or colorectal cancer
- Family medical history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC)
Doctor describes the benefits of getting a colonoscopy:
The Benefits of Screening
For every 300 people who get screened, 95 percent of tests come back clear— meaning zero polyps or cancerous cells were present. Just about 4 percent of tests identify a precancerous polyp and less than 1 percent have cancer.
It’s understandable that many prefer the “bliss” of ignorance compared to the scary reality of being diagnosed with cancer. However, the entire purpose of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is to get more people to change their views on this matter. This disease can be treated with a high rate of success when caught early on.
Looking for More Information?
If you’d like to learn more about colorectal cancer and the screening tests that are available, here are some other viable sources of information:
- American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org)
- National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov)
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (digestive.niddk.nih.gov)
- American Academy of Family Physicians (familydoctor.org)
Also don’t forget to contact your doctor too. He/she is already well familiar with your medical history and should be able to answer many of your questions.