Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S. But if everyone 50 or older had regular screening tests, the majority of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.
Who gets this cancer?
Colorectal cancer occurs most often in people ages 50 and older. The risk increases with age, and both men and women can get it. This cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. Some polyps have the potential to grow and become malignant. Fortunately, screening tests can find polyps so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer.
Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when the chance of being cured is excellent. Don't forget that early detection is key.
Types of screening tests
Several different screening tests can be used to test for polyps or colorectal cancer. Each test can be used alone, or they can be used in combination with each other.
- Fecal occult blood test, or stool test. You can do this test at home using a test kit from your health-care provider. You put stool samples on test cards and return the cards to your physician or a lab. This test checks for occult (hidden) blood in the stool.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. In this test, a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube is placed into your rectum to check for polyps or cancer in the rectum and lower third of the colon.
- Colonoscopy. This test is similar to flexible sigmoidoscopy, except a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube is used to check for polyps or cancer in the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, most polyps and some cancers can be found and removed. "Sedation is generally used, and in most cases, a colonoscopy is painless," said Dr. J. DeWayne Tooson, Gastroenterologist and the Medical Director of Endoscopy Services at DCH Regional Medical Center.
Calculate Your Risk
The National Cancer Institute provides a tool on its website that estimates the risk that a white man or woman who is 50 to 85 years old will develop colorectal cancer (which is another way to say colon and rectal cancer). Click here to calcualate your own risk.
If you're 50 or older, talk with your physician about tests you should get to screen for colorectal cancer. Sources: American Cancer Society; J. DeWayne Tooson, MD, FACP