Colorectal Cancer Awareness, Part 2: Why is Screening Important?
Colorectal cancer may not cause symptoms, especially in early stages. A person could have colorectal polyps, which usually do not cause any symptoms but can develop into cancer over time, or even have colorectal cancer and not know it. The chances of survival are much better when colorectal cancer is found at an early stage, before it has spread in the body. That’s why getting screened regularly for the disease is so important.
Screening is the process of looking for pre-cancer or cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease. The best screening test is the one that gets done. Still, there are several colorectal screening tests available, which you should know about and discuss with your doctor. Below is a summary of recommendations for colorectal cancer screening from the American Cancer Society (ACS) and other experts in cancer care. You can also visit Colorectal Cancer Screening from the ACS to learn more.
Recommendations for colorectal cancer screening include:
People of “average risk” of colorectal cancer should begin regular screening at age 45. Check out our previous blog on Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors and, more importantly, talk with your doctor to determine your risk of getting colorectal cancer.
People at higher than average risk of colorectal cancer might need to start screening before age 45, be screened more often, and/or get specific screening tests.
In general, people who have begun colorectal cancer screening should continue regular screening through the age of 75 years.
Several tests can be used to screen for colorectal cancer. The tests can be divided into two main types: (1) stool-based (sample) tests and (2) structural-based (visual) tests. Stool-based tests check the stool (feces) for signs of cancer. These tests are easy to have done, but they need to be done more often than the other type of test, generally every year. Structural-based tests visually look at the structure of the colon and rectum for any abnormal areas. These tests are done either with a scope (a tube-like instrument with a powerful light and tiny video camera on the end) put into the rectum, or with special imaging (x-ray) tests. The most well-known structural-based test, which is considered the “gold standard” for colorectal cancer screening, is the colonoscopy. Ordinarily, structural-based tests only need to be performed once every 5 to 10 years.
Talk with your doctor about which screening test is right for you. No matter which test you choose, the most important thing is to get screened. Regular screening is one of the most powerful weapons against colorectal cancer. With screening, doctors can find and remove polyps before they have the chance to turn into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer is prevented. Screening also allows doctors to detect early stages of colorectal cancer, so that it can be more easily and successfully treated. Call your doctor and schedule your regular screening now to prevent colorectal cancer tomorrow.
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