Colorectal cancer (colon or rectal cancer) is the 2nd leading cause of death in the US today. Chances are you know someone who has been affected by the disease. What you may not know is that only a small percentage of colorectal cancers are inherited (passed down from related family members). Most colorectal cancer is completely random in whom it affects. The good news is that it’s mostly preventable with the right screening tests. People between the ages of 50-75 are at the highest risk for getting this disease and therefore, it is recommended that they get colonoscopy during this time in their life.
There are 3 main ways to screen for colorectal cancer, and you should have a detailed discussion with your doctor on which one may be right for you.
- A yearly stool blood test that looks for blood in your bowel movements.
- You can have a special CT scan every 5 years that detects colon tumors.
- There is a special stool test that detects for signs of cancer (not just blood) in your bowel movements.
If any of these tests are positive, then you will need a colonoscopy to evaluate this further, or you can skip all the preliminary tests all together and go straight to having a colonoscopy once every 10 years. The advantage to the colonoscopy is that it, not only detects colon cancers, but it also can prevent cancer by finding pre-cancerous tumors and removing them before they even turn into cancers.
A colonoscopy is special procedure that is scheduled by your doctor. You generally only have to take one day off of work to have it done. It involves drinking a special liquid that cleans out your intestines and allows for the operator to see the inside of your colon clearly. The colonoscopy is completed while you are under sedation (you are mostly asleep for the duration of the test). The operator inserts the special instrument with a camera on the end into your anus, and it is gently advanced around your large intestine. The operator will note any abnormality and remove it or take a tissue sample to be analyzed in the lab. Once the procedure is complete, you are allowed to return home the same day and are generally feeling back to normal by the following day.
I realize that the tests can be uncomfortable to talk or even think about, but for most of us that see the devastation that cancers can cause these tests seem to be a small price to pay to avoid dangers in the future.
Please talk to your doctor today if you think you are in need of screening. Don’t wait until you are having problems because then it may be too late to cure the disease.
Alicia Thomas MD, FACS, FACRS