Most of us think of a colorectal cancer screening and quickly dismiss the thought.
Uncomfortable, awkward, painful, embarrassing. Is it really necessary? The answer is “yes.” Why?
Cancers of the colon (large intestine) and the rectum are extremely common. In fact, they are the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, claiming 50,000 lives per year. The American Cancer Society estimates that almost 143,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2013.
The good news is that rates of the disease have been falling steadily over the last 20 years. A big part of the decrease is directly related to testing for colorectal cancer. Not only can testing help find the disease early, when it’s highly treatable, but it can actually prevent the disease. Most colorectal cancers start as small, non-cancerous growths called polyps. By finding and removing these polyps, you can stop cancer before it starts.
Four out of every 10 adults (50 years and older) who should get tested are missing out on this life-saving test. Here are the most common excuses.
“No one in my family had colorectal cancer, so I don’t need to get tested.”
Fact: Most people who get colorectal cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Colorectal cancer can strike anyone, regardless of age. However, 90 percent of cases occur in people over age 50. If you have a personal or family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer, your risk is higher, so talk to your physician about getting screened earlier. But everyone 50 and older should get tested.
“I’m not having any symptoms, so I don’t need to worry.”
Fact: Many people who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer have no symptoms, and people with polyps rarely have symptoms. If you wait to get tested after symptoms develop, you might miss the chance to prevent the disease or find it before it grows and spreads.
“If I have cancer, there is nothing they can do about it, so why bother getting tested?”
Fact: Colorectal cancer is one of the most detectable and, if found early enough, most treatable forms of cancer. More than 80 percent of all cases of colorectal cancer can be prevented with recommended screening.
Source: Adapted from an article by Durado Brooks MD, MPH, American Cancer Society
There are a number of different tests for colorectal cancer:
Take-home tests. The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is the most common take-home test, used to detect blood from a stool sample.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy. During this outpatient procedure, a doctor uses a thin, flexible tubular instrument to view the lining of the rectum and the lower third of the colon.
A Double Contrast Barium Enema (DCBE). This is another outpatient procedure in which the patient is given an enema containing a barium solution and air. The combination coats the lining of the rectum and colon, which allow polyps and other abnormalities to be visible on an X-ray.
Colonoscopy. This is the most common outpatient procedure. A thin, lighted tube is inserted into the rectum and allows the doctor to view the inner lining of the colon. If polyps are found, they can be removed and collected for analysis.