During Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important for those older than age 50 to understand the various methods, frequency and pros, and cons of screening tests.
According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, screening is the primary way to reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancers. It is very preventable, and if found in its early stages, it is one of the most treatable forms of cancer.
If you have a history in your family of colorectal cancer or polyps, your primary care physician may advise screening at age 40, or 10 years before the age of the youngest case in your immediate family (parents, siblings). African Americans are advised to be screened at age 45, and those with issues such as ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease should speak to a physician about getting screened before the age of 50.
Colorectal cancer is the number two cancer killer in the U.S. and is one of the most preventable. It may not only be detected but may be prevented, through colonoscopy.
Most early-stage colorectal cancers produce no symptoms – a major reason why gastroenterologists urge screening tests. It is also important to seek medical care if you have a sudden onset of abdominal pain; blood in or on your stool or a noticeable change in your stool shape and caliber or if your typical bowel habits change, you have more frequent constipation or diarrhea.
Most colorectal cancers develop from polyps, which are abnormal growths. If they are not removed, they may become cancerous. Screening tests can help identify these. More than 75-90 percent of
colorectal cancers can be avoided through the early removal of pre-cancerous polyps.
There are a number of screening tests you may consider along with counsel from your gastroenterologist.
- Colonoscopy: The American College of Gastroenterology recommends every 10 years for a colonoscopy beginning at age 50, or 45 for African Americans. It is the preferred colorectal cancer prevention test.
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): This test is also preferred for colorectal cancer detection. FIT detects hidden blood in the stool. When a test is positive, a colonoscopy is suggested.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy may be suggested every 5-to-10 years
- Fecal DNA testing
The cause of colorectal cancer in the majority of cases is uncertain. Most colorectal cancers do develop from polyps, which can be detected by screening tests, and removed. The American College of Gastroenterology indicates that the development of more than 75-90 percent of colorectal cancer can be avoided through early detection and removal of these pre-cancerous polyps.
More information is available at the National Cancer Institute website, at www.cancer.gov. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You may also find more information at the website of LVMC’s Dr. Rahim Raoufi, a board-certified gastroenterologist, at http://www.raoufimd.com.