Over 50? Colon Cancer Screening Is a Must-Do

It’s the prime of your life. Retirement? Grandkids? It’s also the prime time when your risk for colorectal cancer increases — 91 percent of new cases occur in individuals over age 50. Despite the survival rate exceeding 90 percent when found early, only 40 percent of individuals are diagnosed at this stage. Why? Low colorectal cancer screening rates.

Sorting Out the Options

Almost 50,000 people die every year from colorectal cancer — the cancer no one has to have. When it comes to helping protect yourself against colorectal cancer, there are many screening options. So, no excuses. Educate yourself and ask your healthcare provider to help get you in the habit of regular screenings. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or other risk factors, your screening recommendations may be different from those listed here.

Screenings that Detect Cancer:

Choose one of these. Note that any positive test results will require further testing or screenings.

FOBT (complete yearly)

  • Little Company of Mary can provide you with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) kit and instructions. It’s done in the comfort of your home and involves taking samples from three consecutive bowel movements and submitting them to a lab for analysis. It detects the presence of microscopic blood that may have come from a digestive problem or colorectal cancer. Avoid ibuprofen, aspirin, vitamin C or red meats before the test.

FIT (complete yearly)

  • Like FOBT, fecal immunochemical test (FIT) detects blood in the stool. Stool sample collection is often easier for FIT than FOBT. It doesn’t have any dietary restrictions either. Like FOBT, the FIT can only detect a tumor that is bleeding.

Stool DNA test (check with your doctor on frequency)

  • As with most cancers, colorectal cancer cells often show signs of DNA mutations. As a result, a stool sample can be screened for certain strains of abnormal DNA to see if colorectal cancer may be present. The lab needs to receive the sample within 24 hours.
Screenings that Detect Growths and/or Cancer:

In addition to the FOBT or FIT test, you also need one of the following:

Colonoscopy (every 10 years)

  • Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening. It involves inserting a scope into the rectum to check for unusual growths. It can be performed under sedation for maximum comfort. Any suspicious polyps can be removed during the course of a colonoscopy. In this regard, it may even be possible to prevent colorectal cancer.

Virtual colonoscopy (every 5 years)

  • Also known as a CT colonography, virtual colonoscopy uses sophisticated X-ray imaging to take detailed pictures of the colon and rectum. It’s noninvasive and allows you to lie on your back while a machine rotates around you, taking pictures. A computer stitches all these images together to create 2-D and 3-D views of the inside of the rectum and colon. If any polyps are detected, a colonoscopy will be needed. Keep in mind, you’ll still need to completely empty bowels and a tube will be placed in the rectum to fill the colon with air.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years)

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy is similar to a traditional colonoscopy, but less invasive. Once again, polyps can’t be removed during this screening. Because the sigmoidoscope is only about two feet long, the doctor only sees half of the colon. If a polyp or cancer is found, additional tests such as a colonoscopy will need to be performed to look for cancer in the rest of the colon.

Double-contrast barium enema (every 5 years)

  • A barium enema with air contrast, also known as a double-contrast barium enema, is another type of X-ray test. You’ll start out lying on your side. A tube is inserted in the rectum to partially fill the colon with barium sulfate, a chalky liquid. Next air is pumped into the colon to make it expand. When the colon is filled halfway with barium sulfate, you’ll flip over on the table and an X-ray will be taken of the lining of the colon and rectum to look for possible polyps. A follow-up colonoscopy may be necessary.

Full speed ahead

  • While it’s natural to feel anxiety about these tests, don’t forget they have the potential to save your life. Ask your Little Company of Mary doctor about the colorectal screenings you need and see them through to completion, sending the sample in for FOBT or FIT, making the appointment and keeping it, etc. Avoiding cancer or finding it early when it’s most treatable is worth it!


*Sources: Cancer.gov, Cancer.org, CDC.gov


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