About 150,000 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, according to cancer.net. It’s the third most common cancer diagnosed and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women. However, cases have been dropping in the United States due to increased screening. A screening test is used to look for a disease when a person doesn’t have symptoms. If you are 45 to 75 years old, the time to get screened is now.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s time to raise awareness for colorectal cancer and the importance of screening. March 4th is “Dress in Blue Day” – wear blue to raise awareness and show support for those fighting colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. Many people with colon cancer will experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Screening tests find these precancerous growths so that they may be removed before becoming cancerous, according to the CDC.
When should you begin to get screened according to the CDC?
- Soon after you turn 45
- Earlier than 45 if
- You or a relative have had colorectal polyps or cancer
- You have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis
- You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome)
Symptoms according to Mayo Clinic
- Persistent change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of stool
- Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- Feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Risk Factors according to Mayo Clinic
- Older age
- African American race
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions
- Inherited syndromes
- Family history of colon cancer
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Radiation therapy for cancer directed at the abdomen
Millions of people in the U.S. are going against recommendations and not getting screened for colorectal cancer, which means that they risk missing the chance to prevent it or detect it early, according to the CDC. While some screening options may cause anxiety or seem invasive, there are a number of options, and you can find the one that works best for you. Adults aged 45-75 should be getting screened regularly, and most insurance plans and Medicare will help pay for people 50 years or older to get screened.
The CDC lists these different screening tests:
- The guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT): This test detects blood in the stool. It is done once a year. Once receiving a kit from your healthcare provider, you use a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool at home. Return the test kit to the doctor or a lab, where the stool samples will be checked for blood.
- The fecal immunochemical test (FIT): This uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. It is also done once a year like the gFOBT.
- The FIT-DNA test (also referred to as the stool DNA test): This test combines the FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in the stool. For this test, you collect an entire bowel movement and send it to a lab, where it is checked for cancer cells. It is done once every three years.
- During this test, a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube is inserted into the rectum by a doctor. The doctor checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
- This should be done every 5 years, or every 10 years with a FIT every year.
- This test uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. The doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers, during this test. Colonoscopy also is used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.
- This should be done every 10 years (for people who do not have an increased risk of colorectal cancer).
CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)
- Computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon, which are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.
- This should be done every 5 years.
No test is perfect or “the best” for any person. All have pros and cons, and you can talk to your doctor about which will work best for you.