Approximately 9 out of 10 people whose colorectal cancer is found early and treated accordingly are still alive five years later. Unfortunately, only 59% of people age 50 and older are current with recommended screenings.
Approximately 9 out of 10 people whose colorectal cancer is found early and treated accordingly are still alive five years later. Unfortunately, only 59% of people age 50 and older are current with recommended screenings. “Screening is important to find cancer before it is advanced, but when someone is not having symptoms, they can forget about it or feel like it’s not important,” says Dr. Nelson. Beyond that, people don’t want to deal with the logistical hassles involved with screening. “Many individuals consider colonoscopies to be especially frustrating since they require you to take a day off of work, and they require bowel preparation, which involves drinking a laxative to clear out the colon, the night before the procedure,” explains Dr. Botros.
Dr. Maikel Botros
Radiation Oncologist, Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Parkridge Medical Center
So what should you do? The medical community views colonoscopies as “The Gold Standard” for detection, though there are various tests approved for routine colorectal screening. “Colonoscopy is both diagnostic and therapeutic, which means if a polyp is found, it can be removed to prevent cancer,” explains Dr. Lorenzo. People who are average risk, with no cancer or polyps in their family, should start colonoscopy screening at age 50 and repeat every 10 years. Those with colon cancer or polyps in the family should begin screening 10 years younger than the youngest person to be diagnosed and repeat every five years or less. “Newer preparations are now available so that patients don’t have to drink a gallon of liquid to perform an adequate prep,” adds Dr. Botros.
Other visual exam options include CT colonography, which is a virtual colonoscopy using special X-ray equipment to examine the large intestine for cancerous polyps, and flexible sigmoidoscopy, a procedure done with a tiny video camera. Both are recommended every five years.
Less invasive measures are also available, though testing needs to be completed more regularly. Stool-based tests such as fecal immunochemical test (FIT), guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), and stool DNA tests check for trace amounts of blood that can be an early sign of cancer. There are even at-home versions of stool sample screenings available by prescription.
There are advantages and limitations to each test, so talk to your doctor about which method is right for you. They’ll take into consideration your age, medical history, and family history to pursue your best course of action. The American Cancer Society recommends screening through age 75, at which time patients can discuss factors such as overall health and prior medical history to determine if further screening is necessary.