Colorectal cancer screening is a crucial step to identify cancer early and save lives. Previous medical guidance has dictated that screenings should start at age 50 in most cases. However, the American Cancer Society now endorses screenings starting at age 45. Gastro Health Partners endorses this approach as well. Here’s an overview of why screening is so important, and what your options are.
Colorectal cancer, sometimes called colon cancer, is cancer that occurs in the rectum or colon. Abnormal growths called polyps can grow in the colon or rectum and become cancerous. When this happens, cancers grow into the wall of the colon or rectum over time. They then have the potential to spread into lymph vessels or blood vessels and travel to other parts of the body.
Screening is important because it can prevent the development of colorectal cancer and more widespread cancer in the body. If caught early, colorectal cancer is often very treatable. For example, during a screening, precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum can be removed before they become cancerous. Screening is a life-saving preventative measure: in this case, there is a 90% survival rate when cancer is found and treated early on. It is also helpful because many people will not exhibit symptoms until their colorectal cancer has progressed significantly. Getting screened can help doctors catch and treat cancer before it develops or spreads significantly.
Who Should be Screened and When?
Screening is the key prevention strategy for all adults. Everyone should get a screening regularly at a certain point. As mentioned before, the previous guidance was most people should be screened starting at age 50. Now, guidance has shifted to starting at age 45.
Additionally, other factors can influence when and how often you should be screened. If your family has a history of colon cancer, if you have had polyps, or if you have an inflammatory bowel disease or some genetic disorders, you may need to be screened earlier and/or more often.
Types of Screening and How Often to Get Screened
There are a few main screening options. You should talk with your doctor to determine the best path for you. As alluded to, the colonoscopy is the gold standard for screenings. During a colonoscopy, your doctor is able to look at your entire colon and can remove polyps. You may only need a colonoscopy once every 10 years if you have a negative screening. Another screening option is a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, which is performed every 5 years with negative screenings. The downside of this method is that it doesn’t give a full view of the colon like a colonoscopy does. Only the lower parts of the colon are viewable with this test.
There are also a few stool-based screenings available. With stool tests, you collect a stool sample at home and send it in to your doctor for analysis. This method does not identify abnormalities as effectively as a colonoscopy. Doctors may also pursue follow-up testing if they confirm a positive result. There are a few other screening options that may be available as well, like a Capsule Endoscopy or a CT Colonography. Your doctor will recommend the best option based on your specific case.
Getting screened for colorectal cancer is an extremely effective way to prevent cancer. Our experienced team at GHP has years of experience performing screenings. We can help establish the best plan of diagnosis and care for your situation. Contact any of our office locations to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.