Do you ever wish you could alter the future? Colon cancer screening is one way to do that. Colon cancer is so easily preventable that screening can alter the future, by finding and removing polyps before they become malignant. Learning when and how to get tested will give you the insight you need to take control over your future. Cancer doesn’t have to be your destiny.
Who Should Get Screened?
The short answer is: Everyone! The real question is, “When should screening begin?” The general answer is age 45, and for most people this is fine, but a more complete answer depends on a number of factors. Symptoms are a major indicator that an earlier screening would be wise. If you are seeing blood in your stool, experiencing changes in your bowel habits, losing weight without explanation, or if any of these is accompanied by abdominal cramping, see your doctor immediately. Another issue that can affect the screening time frame is a family history of colon cancer in which case, the recommended age for colon cancer screening is pushed ahead to age 40 or 10 years before the earliest diagnosed case, if you know what that is. Likewise, if you have a personal history of polyps, colon cancer, or an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, your doctor will likely recommend an earlier screening.
Home Screening vs. Colonoscopy
Whether you are within the majority, beginning screening at 45 or fall into one of the other categories and need to start earlier, you have some decisions to make regarding testing. One type of test is a stool DNA test, which involves mailing a stool sample to a lab where it will be evaluated for DNA changes or blood that could indicate the presence of cancer or precancerous polyps. One negative of a stool DNA test is that not everyone can choose this option. It is reserved for people with only an average risk of colon cancer and is not given to people with a medical history of cancer or polyps. Another non-invasive home test is FIT, which stands for fecal immunochemical test. FIT also checks a stool sample for blood that may be a sign of cancer or large polyps. Like the stool DNA test, it is not very effective at finding precancerous polyps and less effective at finding colon cancer at all. This test needs to be done every one to three years.
Finally, the test probably most familiar, is the colonoscopy. A colonoscopy involves inserting a flexible tube with a camera on the end into the anus to examine the colon. This procedure typically requires some dietary preparation prior and is done under sedation. There are many benefits to a colonoscopy including the ability to find and remove precancerous during the procedure. Since most colon cancer develops from polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon and rectum, this is the best test for colon cancer prevention. Another benefit is that if the results come back clear, you do not need to have another colonoscopy for ten years. If a stool DNA or FIT test comes back positive, you will have to have a colonoscopy anyway to confirm and determine the extent of the cancer. The bottom line is that you should get screened. Colon cancer is a slow-growing cancer that is more treatable the sooner it is found, and regular screenings are key in prevention and catching it early. If you have questions about when to start screenings or what kind of test is right for you, make an appointment with Dr. Sameer Islam today.