Why Screen for Colorectal Cancer?
It’s the second most common cause of death from cancer in the US—and one of the few preventable cancers
A muscular tube about 5 feet long, the colon is the first and longest part of the large intestine. It functions as a food processor, breaking food down into energy. A typical colorectal tumor starts as a polyp growing in the lining of the colon or rectum, and usually develops slowly over a period of 10-15 years.
What are the symptoms?
Early colorectal cancer often has no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. If a polyp is not detected and removed early it can grow and cause bleeding or obstruction of the intestine. Warning signs include rectal bleeding, altered stool shape or dark/black stools, lower abdominal pain/cramps, or unintentional weight loss.
Who should have a colorectal cancer screening?
The American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the US Multi-Society Task Force on colorectal cancer recommend preventative screening to detect precancerous polyps and early cancers. Your doctor can help you decide when you should be screened, and which screening test to have. Screening is generally recommended for
- Anyone with a personal history of: colon polyps, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (a long-term disease of the intestines, diagnosed by a doctor)
- Anyone with a family history of: colon polyps, colon cancer
- Anyone who is at least 50 years old
What are some options for colorectal cancer screening?
- Colonoscopy In this test, the rectum and entire colon are examined using a lighted instrument called a colonoscope. During colonoscopy, precancerous and cancerous growths throughout the colon can be found and either removed or biopsied, including growths in the upper part of the colon, where they would be missed by sigmoidoscopy; every 10 years
- Sigmoidoscopy In this test, the rectum and lower colon are examined using a lighted instrument called a sigmoidoscope; every five years
- Virtual colonoscopy (also called computerized tomographic colonography)—In this test, special x-ray equipment is used to produce pictures of the colon and rectum; every 10 years
- Double contrast barium enema (DCBE) In this test, a series of x-rays of the entire colon and rectum are taken after the patient is given an enema with a barium solution and air is introduced into the colon; every 5 years
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) This test checks for hidden blood in fecal material stool sample; every year
How can I help prevent colon cancer?
- Regular screening
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Be physically active
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits
- Limit alcohol
- If you smoke, STOP smoking.
Learn more about colorectal cancer screening
- Watch the new colonoscopy prep video "Colonoscopy Prep: Tips and Tricks" (15 minutes) below
- Watch the informational video "Screening for Colorectal Cancer" (4 minutes) below
February 17, 2014
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