Colorectal cancer (colon or rectal cancer) is the 2nd leading cause of death in the US today. Do know someone who has been affected by colorectal cancer? Most colorectal cancer is completely random in whom it affects with only a small percentage inherited (passed down from related family members). 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.
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 for further evaluation. 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.
What happens during a colonoscopy?
Your doctor will schedule your colonoscopy. 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. You are under sedation (you are mostly asleep) for the duration of the colonoscopy. The operator inserts a special instrument with a camera on the end into your anus and it is gently advanced around your large intestine. Any abnormalities will be removed or a tissue sample will be taken to be analyzed in the lab. You are allowed to return home the same day once the procedure is complete. You 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