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Colon Cancer Screening: What Are Your Options?

Posted March 05, 2019 by Cindy Jones, BSN, RN, OCN, CTTS Patient Care Navigator, Oncology Services

colon blog

Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable, treatable and beatable cancers; however, early detection is key.

Risks increase with age and according to the CDC, more than 90 percent of colorectal cancers occur in those over the age of 50. Unfortunately, most precancerous polyps don’t cause any symptoms. Once the cancer has reached a more progressive stage, symptoms may appear. Those symptoms can include blood in or on the stool, stomach aches, pain or cramping that doesn’t go away, unexplained weight loss and change in bowel habits. These symptoms do occur in many other diseases and infections, you should consult with your doctor immediately.

Roughly 23 million people are not getting the testing recommended at their risk level. With advances in cancer screenings, regular testing for colorectal cancer can increase survival rates significantly. The following factors increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer:

  • Age 45+
  • Overweight
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Immediate family member who has colorectal cancer
  • Smoker (past and present)
  • Lack of regular physical activity
  • High consumption of red meat

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and if you have a combination of the above risk factors, you should consult with your doctor about types of colorectal cancer screening tests.

There are a variety of tests, but they all focus on two main goals: identifying and finding precancerous polyps and/or detecting colorectal cancer in its earliest stages.

A colonoscopy is the most common colorectal cancer screening test. This type of exam is used to screen for abnormalities or detect changes in the colon and rectum. A long, flexible tube with a video camera is inserted into the rectum to view the colon. During this procedure, polyps or other types of tissue can also be removed. A biopsy can also be performed to gather tissue samples during this screening. This procedure does require some preparation time and some sedation is recommended.

A much less invasive procedure, a flexible sigmoidoscopy examines only the lower part of the colon. Using a slender, lighted tube, a physician is able to view the inside of the rectum and lower part of the colon for precancerous polyps or cancer. While no sedation is provided, this procedure can be slightly uncomfortable but usually lasts less than 10 minutes.

Capsule endoscopy is one of the newest medical advancements in colon cancer screening. During this painless, minimally invasive procedure, the patient swallows a capsule that contains a tiny, built-in camera. As the capsule travels through the digestive tract, thousands of pictures are taken, which are transmitted to a small portable monitor worn by the patient. It’s currently one of the most accurate ways to search for small lesions and potential sources of bleeding. If polyps are identified, a colonoscopy will be required to remove them.

The Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) detects minute traces of blood in the stool through a fecal sample. This test can be collected in the privacy of your own home, requires no procedure, colon cleansing or dietary restrictions prior to the test. This test is also significantly cheaper than the other two, more invasive tests.

FITs detect about 79 percent of colorectal cancers and roughly 30 percent of large polyps. Because this exam isn’t as thorough as the other two, it’s recommended to test yearly, even if you only have a few high-risk factors. If the FIT test does detect blood in the stool, a colonoscopy is required for further testing.

Treatment for colorectal cancer is based largely on the extent, or stage, of the cancer, but other factors can also be important. People with colon cancers that have not spread to distant sites usually have surgery as the primary treatment. Additional chemotherapy may also be used.

Summa Health takes a comprehensive approach to surgical treatments for colorectal cancer. From open procedures to the latest minimally invasive techniques, including robotic surgery, Summa surgeons lead the community in terms of experience. Our board-certified colon and rectal surgeons are fellowship-trained in their specialty. To make an appointment, call 330.253.1800 in Akron or 330.869.0954 in Barberton. 



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