Cancer of the colon and rectum, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers — it’s the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in women.
Screening is one of the best ways to make sure that you don’t become one of the statistics. In the last ten years, colorectal cancer rates have stabilized for women — neither increasing nor decreasing. About 60 percent of adults over age 50 fail to get periodic colorectal cancer screenings, which means cancers are detected at later stages and the survival rate decreases.
However, colorectal cancer can often be avoided if precancerous growths are detected and removed in time. But mention colorectal screening to anyone who hasn’t been tested and she or he will most likely want to change the subject. If you have been avoiding this screening, you need to know the facts. They could save your life.
What Tests Do I Need?
There are a number of screenings for this type of cancer, all of which can find growths, or polyps before they become cancerous, so they can be removed. It also helps find polyps that have become cancerous at the earliest, most treatable stage when the survival rate is higher than 90 percent.
Preventing colorectal cancer and not just finding it early is a major reason to be tested regularly. Beginning at age 50, both men and women at average risk should follow the screening schedule outlined below.
Individuals should have one of the following tests:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year
- Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain
In addition to the above annual tests, individuals also need one of the following:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Double contrast barium enema every five years
- Virtual colonoscopy (CT colonography) every five years
Will it Hurt?
There is no pain involved with the FOBT, FIT or sDNA in which a stool sample is taken. Before a colonoscopy, you receive medication that will help you sleep so you will not feel anything. During a sigmoidoscopy you will be awake. This and the barium enema test may be a bit uncomfortable, but should not be painful. A virtual colonoscopy is a painless procedure involving a CT scanner that takes X-ray pictures of the colon and rectum.
What Do I Have to Do to Get Ready for these Tests?
The day or two before a barium enema, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or virtual colonoscopy you will need to follow a special diet of clear liquids. You will also take laxatives and perhaps an enema before the tests to clear the colon.
What if They Find Something?
If your doctor finds a polyp, you may need further testing or a follow-up colonoscopy to look for polyps in the rest of the colon. Small polyps can be removed and a biopsy will be done on larger polyps, tumors or anything else that’s abnormal.
If you have questions about colorectal screening and the option that is best for you, speak with your primary care provider at Little Company of Mary.