Colon cancer: what you need to know
Which health trend is grabbing your attention in the new year? Gluten-free diets weight training Zumba protein supplements - the list is endless of fad diets and exercise regimens for improving your health. What about other preventative services? As we begin the new year it's a great time to think about preventative screenings. One very valuable tool is a colon cancer - or colorectal cancer - screening which can catch pre-cancerous changes in the colon. Colorectal cancer is currently the second leading cause of death from cancer according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) though the rates are declining as screening methods are increasingly more common. One third of patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer will lose their life due to the disease.
What is colorectal cancer?
Who should be screened?
Routine screening begins at age 50 for both men and women. If someone has increased risk the screening may start earlier. For example if a parent or sibling has a history or colorectal cancer the recommended screening should start ten years before the age of onset for the family member. (If dad was diagnosed at 58 screening should begin at 48). Risk factors include: family history of colorectal cancer Crohn's disease ulcerative colitis previously found colon polyps increased age (>50 years) tobacco use high fat diet low physical activity lifestyle alcohol use and obesity.
How is screening done?
There are several screening methods including colonoscopy flexible sigmoidoscopy stool DNA test and blood stool test. However colonoscopy is the most sensitive screening method.
- Colonoscopy: a thin tube is inserted the colon allowing the clinician to visualize the tissue of the entire colon identify any precancerous changes and take a biopsy if any suspicious tissue or polyps are present. If polyps are present these may be removed. This screening is repeated every 10 years unless a polyp is identified (3-5 year intervals).
- Flex-sigmoidoscopy: similar to the colonoscopy a thin tube is inserted into the last portion of the large colon (sigmoid colon) that allows the clinician to visualize the rectal and last portion of the colon identify any concerning changes and take a biopsy if needed. This test however does not allow for screening of the entire colon. It is repeated every ten years and a stool test is performed as well every year.
- Stool DNA test: a stool sample is sent to a laboratory for evaluation to screen for abnormal DNA markers that may indicate cancerous changes. Cologuard is one example. These tests are repeated every three years.
- Stool blood test: cancer may result in microscopic blood passing in the stool that may be identified by collection of a stool sample. Although this test may indicate colon irritation related to cancer it may also be the result of blood thinners NSAIDs (ibuprofen) hemorrhoids or other conditions. This test is repeated every year.
If you are over the age of 50 or have any of the risk factors please talk with your healthcare provider about your risk and screening options. Encourage friends and family to take action in preventing colon cancer. These measures could save your life. If you have any questions feel free to contact our office or visit the CDC website for more information (https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/what-is-colorectal-cancer.htm).Learn more