From Evan Z. Lang, MD, MS, medical oncologist and hematologist
March 28, 2022
According to the American Cancer Society, excluding skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in Americans. It is estimated that over 151,000 U.S. adults will be diagnosed with this life-threatening disease this year. Colon cancer is the most preventable of all cancers. With so many screening options out there, which one is the best?
Firstly, my OHC colleagues and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of receiving regular cancer screenings. Colorectal cancer, cancer of the colon (large intestine) and rectum, is highly treatable when detected early. Consider the following eye-opening statistics:
- According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate for colon cancer is 91% when discovered in early stages compared to only 14% when found in later stages.
- Most recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that only 65.2% of adults aged 50-75 have had a screening.
So, what is holding people back from getting this critical life-saving screening? Multiple factors most likely contribute to a less than ideal screening rate, including lack of awareness, cost, accessibility, fear, discomfort, and confusion about screening methods.
So that you have a better understanding of colorectal screening and recommended guidelines, OHC offers the following as a starting point for a discussion with your healthcare provider.
What is colorectal cancer screening?
Colorectal screening tests look for signs of cancer, like polyps or other precancerous growths in the rectum or colon. Some screening tests prevent cancer by allowing a doctor to find these growths and remove them before they turn into cancer.
When should I get screened?
For people at average risk for colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends starting regular screening at age 45. If you are in good health, you should continue regular screening through age 75.
What screening options are available?
There are two main types of colorectal cancer screening tests: visualization tests and stool tests.
- Colon visualization tests are procedures that allow a doctor to look inside the colon and rectum with a tiny camera or an imaging device. These include:
- Colonoscopy- This is the gold standard in colorectal cancer screening because it is the most sensitive of all available tests. A doctor examines the lining of the entire colon with a long, thin, flexible tube to look for polyps or tumors. If polyps are found, they can be removed immediately.
- Virtual colonoscopy (computed tomography colonography)- A computed tomography (CT) scanner takes images of the entire colon to display on a screen for a doctor to analyze.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy- A less-invasive form of a colonoscopy that examines only the lower third of the colon.
- Double contrast barium enema- Doctors use this test on those unable to have a colonoscopy. After a liquid containing barium is put into the rectum, X-ray images are taken of the colon and rectum.
- In a lab, stool tests examine stool samples collected at home for evidence of cancer. Because polyps rarely bleed, stool testing for blood is less likely than other screening tests to detect polyps. False positives are also common with stool tests. Types of stool tests include:
- Fecal occult blood test- A provider evaluates your stool sample for blood using a chemical called guaiac.
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)- This is similar to the fecal occult blood test, except it uses antibodies instead of guaiac to detect blood in stool.
- FIT-DNA test- This test combines the FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in stool.
The chart below provides more helpful information about screening options, including colon cleanse and sedation requirements:
Remember, colorectal cancer begins as precancerous growths in the rectum or colon, and oftentimes there are no symptoms. The only way to find these growths is to do a screening test. Report any unusual symptoms, including evidence of bleeding, a change in bowel habits, and discomfort in the lower abdomen with your doctor. After considering your medical history, family health history of colorectal cancer or polyps, and whether you have a genetic syndrome that increases your likelihood of developing colorectal cancer, your doctor will determine the screening option and frequency that is best for you. Your doctor may recommend screening earlier than age 45. Furthermore, the frequency of colonoscopy may be adjusted based on the findings and risks.
This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is an opportune time to discuss your screening options with your doctor. For an up-to-date list of cancer screening guidelines, visit OHC’s website at: https://ohcare.com/service/cancer-screenings/. Early detection typically results in more positive patient outcomes. For more information on OHC’s leading cancer experts or to request a second opinion, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit ohcare.com.Comments (0)