If you are 50 or older, it is time to think about colorectal cancer screening. Colorectal Cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in both men and women. It is estimated that nearly 135,000 people will be diagnosed with it every year, and more than 49,000 will die from it. You don’t have to be a statistic. 

Most colorectal cancers usually begin as a polyp, a flat or raised growth in the colon or rectum, which can be found with yearly screenings. That’s good news because if caught early, colorectal cancer is much more treatable.

The actual screening process for colorectal cancer is done in a variety of ways, which are all approved by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF).

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests. Both polyps and colorectal cancers can bleed and this screening checks for tiny amounts of blood in the stool. The stool samples are collected by the patient using a kit and returned to the doctor. This screening, done one to every two years in those aged 50 to 80, can help reduce the number of colorectal cancer deaths by 15 to 33 percent.
  • Stool DNA test. This test also checks for blood in the stool, as well as nine DNA biomarkers in three genes that have been found in colorectal cancer and precancerous advanced adenomas. The sample is also collected with a kit, but this one is mailed to a lab for testing. If a finding is positive for the DNA biomarkers, the patient is advised to have a colonoscopy.
  • Sigmoidoscopy. The rectum and sigmoid colon (the part of the colon just above the rectum) are examined with a flexible, lighted tube that has a lens and a tool for removing tissue, like abnormal growths. This screening requires less extensive preparation than a colonoscopy and the patient is usually not sedated. This regular screening lowers a patient’s risk for cancer in these areas by 60 to 70 percent compared to those that don’t have the screening.
  • Standard colonoscopy. In a standard colonoscopy, the rectum and the entire colon are examined using a colonoscope, which is very similar to a sigmoidoscope but is longer to reach through the entire colon. Many patients are sedated during this test. Studies suggest a colonoscopy reduces deaths from colorectal cancer by about 60 to 70 percent. Experts recommend patients at average risk for colorectal cancer, those with negative test results, have a colonoscopy about every 10 year.
  • Virtual colonoscopy. This screening uses x-ray equipment to produce a series of photos of the colon and rectum from outside the body. The detailed images can show polyps and other abnormalities. This screening is less invasive than a standard colonoscopy and does not require sedation. It has also been shown to be as accurate as a standard colonoscopy, however, if polyps or abnormalities are detected, the patient must have the standard procedure to remove them. Currently, Medicare and some insurance companies don’t pay for the costs of this procedure.

Talk to your health care provider at Family Health Care of Siouxland about when to begin screening and which test works best for you. The decision is usually based on age, medical history, family history, general health, preparation, sedation, follow-up care and insurance coverage. Each test has its advantages and disadvantages, but any of our qualified physicians can direct you to the right choice.

Don’t wait. Colorectal cancer doesn’t have to mean a death sentence. Early detection is key for successful treatment.

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