Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. It is also one of the most preventable – but only if it’s caught in time.
In most cases, cancer cells don’t develop from normal colon cells. Rather, normal cells develop abnormal changes and become small growths, called polyps, in the colon. While most polyps are not cancerous, certain types are highly likely to become cancerous and should be removed to prevent colon cancer.
Everyone 45* years of age or older should get regular screenings for colorectal cancer. If you have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors you may need to be screened starting at an earlier age.
Colon Cancer Screening
Currently, there are several methods of colorectal cancer screening available. Those include colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, stool blood testing, barium enema with air contrast and CT colonography. While each one has pros and cons, only colonoscopy is widely considered to be the gold standard.
Colonoscopy is rated above all other colorectal cancer screening methods by the American Cancer Society, as well as the three leading national gastroenterology associations. It is the only colorectal cancer screening method that allows a physician to visualize the entire colon and remove most polyps at the same time.
Stool blood test
A fecal occult blood test, or stool blood test, is used to screen for early colon cancer. Stool samples are collected at home and sent in for testing. If the test is positive, further procedures will be done to determine the cause of the bleeding.
Much like a colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy (flex-sig) uses a small, flexible instrument to examine the colon and screen for polyps, which may become cancerous. However, unlike a colonoscopy, flex-sig cannot examine the entire colon.
Flex-sig requires minimal preparation, usually consisting of one or two enemas or laxatives before the procedure. It takes just ten minutes, and no sedation or pain medication is required.
Barium enema with air contrast
This test uses a series of x-rays of the colon to screen for colon cancer. First, you will be given an enema with a white, chalky substance, which outlines the colon on x-rays. Then a gastroenterologist will slowly introduce air into the colon, expanding it for better visibility. If polyps are found, a colonoscopy or further testing may be required.
CT colonography, or virtual colonoscopy, uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to create images of the entire colon and rectum. Through virtual colonoscopy, your gastroenterologist is able to see irritated and swollen tissue, ulcers and polyps. If polyps are found, further procedures may be required for biopsy or removal.
Colon cancer is highly preventable when found early! Contact Borland Groover to schedule a colon cancer screening.
*New recommendations by American Cancer Society states colon cancer screenings should begin at age 45 for people at average risk. Please check with your insurance provider for coverage options for colon cancer screening before the age of 50. Most insurance companies, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, cover procedures based on recommendations made by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The USPSTF recommends screening starting at age 50.
Through the Jacksonville Center for Endoscopy (JCE), Borland Groover physicians can offer an alternative to hospital-based outpatient services when a gastrointestinal endoscopy, including colonoscopy, is needed.
Simply put, polyps are masses of tissue within the bowel. Polyps can be small or large, benign or malignant, but can become malignant or cancerous over time if not removed. Routine screenings to identify and remove polyps are vital to preventing colon cancer. Screening options include:
- Colonoscopy (the gold standard)
- Stool blood test
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Barium enema with air contrast
- CT colonography
Colon cancer usually produces no warning signs until it has progressed past the early stages. However, some people may experience the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Anemia (usually associated with fatigue and weakness)
Screening is recommended if:
- You are age 45 *
- You have a history of polyps or colorectal cancer
- You have a first-degree relative (mother, father, sister, brother or child) with polyps or colorectal cancer.
- You’ve been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis for several years
If you have IBD, Crohn’s or colitis, contact your gastroenterologist to discuss screening.
Unfortunately, if colon cancer is not detected in the early stages, it can quickly spread beyond the colon and treatment is largely ineffective. This is why it is so important to review screening options with your doctor, such as:
- A yearly check of stool for occult blood (blood which cannot be seen with the naked eye)
- Sigmoidoscopy (looking with a small tube up into the colon) every three years after the age of 50
- Colonoscopy, the most important step in the prevention of colon cancer. A colonoscopy prevents colon cancer by detecting and removing benign growths before they become cancerous.