Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. However, it is also one cancer that can be prevented with regular screening through colonoscopy.
“Most cancer in the colon – the first four to six feet of the large intestine — develops from non-cancerous polyps,” says McLeod Gastroenterologist Dr. Timothy J. Spurling. “It takes 10 to 15 years for a polyp to turn into cancer. So, if you have a colonoscopy or other screening test every five to 10 years, we should be able to catch any problem early.”
OTHER SCREENING OPTIONS
In addition to colonoscopy screenings, doctors can also conduct a test for blood in your stool that you can’t see. An at-home variation of this test – known as a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) can be sent to a lab. A review of studies shows that 80% of colon cancers can be spotted with this FIT test.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy uses a small tube to examine the lower part of the intestine, called the sigmoid. It’s less intrusive than the colonoscopy. No sedation is needed with this test.
Virtual colonoscopy creates a 3-D image using a series of CT scans. The test only takes a few minutes and involves a small tube inserted in the rectum to inflate the colon.
There are other steps you can take to decrease your risk of colon cancer. And they fall into two major categories: More or Less.
You should have MORE:
You should have LESS (or limit):
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
People with normal risk should begin screenings at age 50. Then, every 10 years. If polyps are found, you should have another screening test – flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, and virtual colonoscopy — every five years. There are clinical exceptions that make the follow-up more often but five years is average.
For more on the American Cancer Society screening guidelines, click here.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK, Harvard Health, University of Toronto, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research