March is Colorectal (Colon) Cancer Awareness Month, which makes this a great time to schedule that screening. Colon cancer is a cancer of the rectum or colon, which is the lower part of your body’s digestive system. The American Cancer Society estimates that 104,601 new cases of colon cancer and 43,340 cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2020. It is the second most common cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the US and 53,200 deaths are expected to occur during 2020. While these numbers are daunting, there are many ways to lower your risk of experiencing this cancer and increasing your chance of survival if you receive this diagnosis.
Reducing Colon Cancer Risks
Although heredity and age are factors in someone’s cancer risks, there are specific things that you can do to protect your colon health. Many of these lifestyle habits also reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease and more. Protect your colon healthy by:
• Improving your diet by eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains;
• Getting regular exercise;
• Maintaining a healthy weight, including losing weight is needed;
• Eliminating the use of all tobacco products;
• Limiting alcohol intake; and
• Screening for colon cancer as recommended by your physician.
Colorectal Cancer Screen Options
The importance of colon cancer screening cannot be overstated. The earliest stages of colon cancer have no outward symptoms but once you do have symptoms, including a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, dark stools and blood in the stools, unintended weight loss, and persistent stomach pains and cramping, the cancer has most likely grown and spread.
Regular screening is recommended so that if cancer is present it can be detected and treated early. According to the US Preventive Services Task Force, adults should have their first colorectal cancer screening at age 50 and continue through age 75 on a schedule recommended by their physicians.
There are two types of screening tests, those that find polyps and cancer and those that mainly find cancer.
Tests That Find Polyps and Cancer
• Colonoscopy: This screening is the most sensitive test and should be conducted every 10 years starting at age 50 if normal or 10 years before the youngest case in a first-degree relative. This means that if you have a parent or sibling that has been diagnosed with colon cancer, you should have your first screening 10 years before their diagnosis, if possible.
• CT colonography. This is a virtual colonoscopy and should be conducted every 5 years. If the results are positive, you should have a colonoscopy.
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This screening involves a flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera. It can only view less than half of the rectum and should be conducted every 5 years. If the results are positive, you should have a colonoscopy.
• Double-contrast barium enema. For this procedure, a liquid containing barium is put into the rectum and an X-ray is used to identify abnormalities. This test should be conducted every 5 years and a colonoscopy screening should take place if the results are positive.
Tests That Mainly Find Cancer
• Fecal immunochemical test (FIT). This test is highly sensitive and should be used with a take-home, multiple sample method. It should be conducted every year.
• Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT). This test is highly sensitive and should be used with a take-home, multiple sample method. It should be conducted every year.
• Stool DNA test. This is the Cologuard test, which identifies both DNA changes and blood in the stool. It should be conducted every 3 years.
With each of these tests, if the results are positive or ‘abnormal’ you must follow up with a colonoscopy.
March may be Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, but at Kasraeian Urology we work hard to support our patients’ health all year long. We offer advanced testing and treatment for a variety of urology-related conditions and cancers and serve our patients in three convenient locations. Please contact us to learn more or schedule an appointment.