March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in the US, but only a third of Americans follow the guidelines for preventive screenings. If you’re at the age to receive a screening, you should know the facts to make an informed decision about getting a colonoscopy.
Colonoscopies: Your Best Defense
“Colon and rectal cancers are considered preventable for most people, but it requires screenings on a regular basis,” advises Joseph Henderson, MD, FACP at Community Hospital East. “Colon cancer cure rates are dramatically higher when caught in the earliest stage.”
A high-quality colonoscopy by an experienced provider can detect abnormal polyps years in advance of them becoming cancerous. Polyps can be safely removed before they become a danger. The procedure is only done once every 10 years, compared to alternatives which must be performed much more frequently.
“Colonoscopy is the preferred test overall,” says Dr. Henderson. “Any inconvenience is outweighed by the benefits. Colonoscopies are the most accurate test, allowing the best detection and same-day removal of precancerous colon polyps.”
If you are unwilling to consider a colonoscopy, your next line of defense is an annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT). This test will check for blood in your stool, which can indicate the early stages of colon cancer. Fecal DNA testing (aka Cologuard) is another option—currently recommended every three years—if colonoscopy or FIT testing is not desired.
While it is a less intrusive procedure, FITs carry several drawbacks compared to colonoscopies. The first is that they must be done annually, rather than once a decade. If the FIT returns an abnormal result, you will still need a colonoscopy to get a clearer view of the affected area.
“If a stool-based test is positive, your insurance might not cover the follow-up colonoscopy as a preventive test,” warns Dr. Henderson. “Patients should take this into consideration before choosing which colon cancer screening method to use.”
When to Get Screened
Those at a normal risk for colorectal cancers should begin screenings at age 50. However, in some cases we recommend beginning screenings at age 45 on a more regular basis. If you are African American, have a family history of colon cancer or have another bowel disease, you should get a screening earlier and more often.
If you are experiencing symptoms of colon cancer, you should speak with your doctor immediately. These symptoms may include continuous cramping or stomach pain, or blood in your stool.
Curious about your colon? Join us on March 27 and 28. Walk through a life-sized colon. Ask cancer treatment and prevention professionals your colon questions. Learn your personalized colon cancer risks.
March 27, 9 am to 3 pm
Community Hospital North, Main Hospital Atrium
March 28, 9 am to 3 pm
Community Hospital East, Main Entrance