Colorectal Cancer Screening
This year, more than 50,000 Americans will die from colorectal cancer and approximately 131,600 new cases will be diagnosed. Colon cancer is the most treatable of all cancers. Prevention through screening is extraordinarily cost-effective.
Colon cancer screening can detect polyps and early cancers in the intestines. This type of screening can find problems that can be treated before cancer develops or spreads. Regular screenings may reduce the risk of death and pain caused by colorectal cancer.
The American College of Gastroenterology recommends screening for colon cancer:
- at age 50 for people who are not at increased risk of the disease
- at age 45 for African Americans because they have an increased risk of developing the disease
Earlier screenings may be recommended for people with a family history of colon cancer, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease - a long-lasting disorder that causes irritation and sores in the GI tract - or other risk factors for colon cancer.
There are several ways to screen for colon cancer.
- This method checks your bowel movements for blood.
- Polyps in the colon and smaller cancers often cause small amounts of bleeding that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
- The most common test used is the fecal occult blood test (FOBT). Newer ones are called the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and stool DNA test (sDNA).
- This test uses a flexible small scope to look at the lower part of your colon. Because it only looks at the last one-third of the large intestine (colon), it may miss some cancers.
- A stool test and sigmoidoscopy should be used together.
- A colonoscopy is similar to a sigmoidoscopy, but the entire colon can be viewed.
- Mild sedation is usually used during a colonoscopy.
- Sometimes, CT scans are used as an alternative to a regular colonoscopy. This is called a virtual colonoscopy.
- Double-contrast barium enema is a special x-ray of the large intestine that looks at the colon and rectum.
- Capsule endoscopy involves swallowing a small, pill-sized camera. It is being studied, but it is not recommended for standard screening at this time.