Several tests have been developed to help gastroenterologists screen for colon cancer. Since the majority of all colon cancers begin as polyps along the intestinal wall, these tests are specially designed to either spot growths in the lower intestine or otherwise detect the presence of blood in a person’s stool. Each test offers advantages and disadvantages – something patients should discuss in detail with their healthcare providers when deciding to undergo colorectal cancer screening. When performed regularly, colorectal cancer screenings can detect cancer before it has a chance to spread – potentially saving a life.
Did you know…that colon cancer is the third most common non-skin cancer in men and women? Most colon cancers begin as a small growth along the inner lining of the intestine? These growths are known as polyps, and they are very common with age. Though most colon polyps are benign and will not turn into cancer, one type – adenomas – may be pre-cancerous and should be removed as a preventative measure.
You should talk with your doctor about the best time for you to begin colorectal cancer screening. For most people, age 50 is the recommended age for a first colonoscopy. However, your doctor may suggest earlier screening if you have a family history of colon cancer, have blood in your stool, or have specific factors that could raise your risk of colon cancer.
Colorectal cancer is most easily prevented and treated when detected in its earliest stages. It can take many years for pre-cancerous polyps to turn into colorectal cancer, so most people can go several years between screenings, depending on the type of test being administered. Patients undergoing flexible sigmoidoscopy or barium enema, for example, need to be screened every 5 years. Those undergoing colonoscopy only need to be screened once every 10 years.
People with an elevated risk of colon cancer or a history of polyps may need colorectal cancer screening in more often. Also, your doctor may order a fecal occult blood test, fecal immunochemical test or a stool DNA test once per year in between screenings to check for the presence of colon cancer.
The chief risk factor for colon cancer is age, however, there certain lifestyle factors that may contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing the disease. Cigarette and excessive alcohol use are known risk factors, as are obesity and inactivity. We recommend that patients stop smoking, drink only in moderation, and adopt healthy eating and exercise habits.