Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Studies have shown that a rise in screenings for colorectal cancer has decreased the number of deaths from this disease.
Certain factors increase your risk for colorectal cancer. Anyone over the age of 50 is at greater risk. People with a history of colon cancer, polyps in the colon or rectum, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, breast cancer, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease are at greater risk. Having an immediate relative with colorectal cancer or polyps puts you at greater risk. Certain hereditary diseases also put you at greater risk.
Most physicians recommend that you begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 50. If you have increased risk factors they may recommend earlier screening. There are several tests available as screens.
The fecal occult blood test checks for hidden blood in the stool. Studies have shown that a fecal occult blood test every one to two years in people ages 50 to 80 can help reduce the number of deaths by colorectal cancer 15-33 percent.
The sigmoidoscopy allows the physician to examine the rectum and lower colon. During the test precancerous and cancerous growths in the rectum and lower colon can be found and removed or biopsied. A thorough cleansing of the colon is necessary for this test. It is recommended that you have a sigmoidoscopy every five years after age 50.
The colonoscopy allows the physician to examine the rectum and entire colon using a colonoscope. During this test precancerous and cancerous growths throughout the colon can be found and removed or biopsied. The advantage to the colonoscopy is that it examines the entire colon. A thorough cleansing of the colon is necessary for a colonoscopy and you may receive some form of sedation. It is recommended that you have a colonoscopy every 10 years after age 50.
The double contrast barium enema is a series of x-rays of the colon and rectum. It is performed after the patient is given an enema with a barium solution introduced into the colon. The barium and air help outline the colon and rectum for X-rays. Research shows that barium enema may miss small polyps. It is recommended that you have a barium enema every five years after age 50.
You and your doctor can decide which type of testing is best for you. Remember early detection and treatment is key in the survival rate of colorectal cancer. For more information on colorectal cancer consult the National Cancer Institute’s website at www.cancer.gov.