If it's caught early, colorectal cancer can be treated successfully. That's why understanding the risks and getting screened are so important.
The exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, but there are factors that can increase your risk, inlcuding:
- A family history of colorectal cancer or polyps.
- A personal history of colorectal cancer, polyps, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or cancer of the breast, ovaries or uterus.
- Being an African American or of Eastern European/Jewish descent.
- Being inactive.
- Eating high-fat, low-fiber diets without enough fruits and vegetables.
- Smoking cigarettes.
Colorectal cancer doesn't usually have symptoms in its early stages, but these are some that should trigger a conversation with your physician:
- A change in bowel habits.
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.
- Abdominal discomfort or bloating.
Several screening options exist — each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Mount Carmel recommends a colonoscopy, which is a screening you should have every 10 years beginning at age 50 or as directed by your physician. Talk about your options with your doctor, and together you can decide which tests are appropriate for you.
A colonoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera attached to examine the lining of the large intestine. The procedure can be used to help diagnose abnormalities such as polyps, tumors and areas of inflammation or bleeding as well as screen for cancer. The colonoscopy itself takes about half an hour and is performed under intravenous sedation.
Some are hesitant to undergo a colonoscopy because of embarrassment or stories about how unpleasant the preparation is. But according to recent studies, 71% of those screened reported little or no discomfort during the pre-procedure bowel preparation and 96% reported little or no discomfort during the procedure.
More than 90% of colon cancers start as polyps, and the great advantage of a colonoscopy over other testing methods is that it makes it possible to remove a suspect polyp or cancer immediately.
While colonoscopy is the gold standard of screening, other available colon screening include:
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) - A take-home FIT or fecal occult blood test (FOBT) should be taken every year.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy - Every five years.
- Annual FIT or FOBT AND Flexible Sigmoidoscopy - Having both of these tests every five years is recommended over either test alone.
- Double-Contrast Barium Enema - Every five years.
Positive tests (FIT, FOBT, flexible sigmoidoscopy or barium enema) should be follow-up with a colonoscopy.