Colorectal cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in men and women and is the second deadliest cancer in the United States. But it doesn’t have to be. Colorectal screenings can help prevent and detect this often-treatable disease. In honor of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight your screening options and why getting screened matters.
Why screening is important
Your risk for colorectal cancer increases as you get older, so experts recommend screening at age 45 for individuals at average and with increased risk. Doing so can help find polyps (growths in the colon or large intestines that can eventually turn into cancer) and cancer in its early stages when treatment is most likely to be successful.
If you’re unsure of your risk, it’s important to speak with your primary care provider. They can help determine your potential risk and when to start screening. Once you decide to get screened for colorectal cancer, there are multiple options for you to consider.
Your screening options
Option No. 1 – Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
One way to test for colorectal cancer is to look for hidden blood in the stool from the lower intestines. The idea behind the FIT test is that blood vessels in larger colorectal polyps or cancers are often fragile and easily damaged by the passage of stool. The damaged vessels usually bleed into the colon or rectum, but only rarely is there enough bleeding for blood to be seen by the naked eye. Also, you can have this test done every year, and in the privacy of your home. If the test result is positive (detects hidden blood), you will need a colonoscopy to find the reason for the bleeding.
Option No. 2 – Sigmoidoscopy
Another option to screen for colorectal cancer is to undergo a sigmoidoscopy, which is the inspection of the lower part of the large intestine using a lighted viewing scope inserted into the rectum. This screening test is similar to a colonoscopy but doesn’t examine the entire colon. During the procedure, your provider will look for small growths within the intestine called polyps. If they find any polyps during the test, your doctor may remove them with a small instrument passed through the scope. Then, the polyps will get looked at in the lab. If they find a pre-cancerous polyp or colorectal cancer, you’ll need a colonoscopy to look for polyps or cancer in the rest of the colon.
Option No. 3 – Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is the best way to detect colorectal cancer and is the only test to decrease your risk. If you have an increased risk of colon cancer, you should choose a colonoscopy as your screening method. Colonoscopy is a procedure to look inside the rectum and colon for polyps, abnormal areas or cancer. A colonoscope, a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing, is inserted through the rectum into the colon. While performing a colonoscopy, your provider may utilize a tool to remove polyps or tissue samples, which then get checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
Choosing a colorectal cancer screening test may not be an easy decision, but it can be a lifesaving one. It’s important to consult with your primary care provider. They can walk through the various options available and help you decide the best option for you.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.