Take the First Step Towards Preventing Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States, taking the lives of about 56,500 people every year. Despite the numbers, it is quite often preventable through regular check-ups, early screenings and knowledge of the risk factors for developing this cancer.
Colorectal cancer develops gradually from polyps, non-cancerous growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. When polyps turn cancerous, they can cause a variety of symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, blood in the stool, general abdominal discomfort, constant tiredness and vomiting. Because colorectal cancer often doesn’t exhibit these symptoms until late in the disease, screenings are essential to catch the disease while it is still curable.
According to Dr. W. L. , director of medical oncology at The Christ Hospital, “The stool test for occult blood is the most useful screening test for colorectal cancer and should be done yearly for persons 50 and older and for anyone at higher risk.”
Your risk of colorectal cancer is determined by a variety of factors including your age, diet, family history of cancer and the presence of polyps. People over the age of 50 and those with high fat/low fiber diets are more at risk and should discuss their concerns with their doctor.
Based on your risk of colorectal cancer, your doctor can recommend a screening option that is appropriate for you; from the most basic screening, a digital rectal exam, to the most thorough exam, a colonoscopy, for those at a high risk of developing this cancer.
- Digital rectal exam (DRE). A DRE is the most basic test for colorectal cancer and is included in most physical examinations. A physician inserts a gloved finger inside the rectum to feel for polyps or other abnormal areas. This test, however, only detects about 10 percent of tumors.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT). Next to a digital rectal exam, an FOBT is the simplest and least expensive test. Colorectal cancers or polyps can bleed, and this test is used to detect the blood through a stool sample. But this process can miss many precancerous polyps and/or cancers, and can also produce many “false-positive” results through revealing blood in the stool that is not due to cancer.
- X-ray with barium enema (XRBE). This test is slightly more accurate than a fecal occult blood test but can still miss small polyps. The patient is given an enema containing barium which creates an outline of the colon and rectum when viewed through an X-ray. This process allows the physician to see any abnormal areas inside the colon or rectum.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This test uses a flexible lighted tube to examine the rectum and lower portion of the colon. While it is very accurate for detecting and removing polyps, it only covers about one third of the colon and can miss cancers or polyps located higher up. But cancers in the upper portion of the colon are fairly rare, and this process is considered easier on the patient than a colonoscopy.
- Colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is the most thorough and most expensive screening for colorectal cancer. The entire colon is viewed through a flexible scope and checked for polyps or other abnormal areas. Colonoscopy usually requires sedation and is recommended for those at a high risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Take the first step toward preventing colorectal cancer and contact your doctor to discuss your risks and screening options.
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