Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. In 2020, there are expected to be over 147,000 new cases of the disease. It also has one of the higher mortality rates, expected to cause over 53,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2020. With March being National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good time to understand the risks and the importance of screening.
Simply put, getting screened for colorectal cancer after the age of 50 is best way to prevent its onset. More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Yet, one-third of people over the age of 50 have not received the recommended screenings. Screenings are important because they can help detect polyps – abnormal growths that can be removed before they turn into cancer. And you might think a colonoscopy is the only type of screening, but there are other options available.
What to know before your screening
What can you expect at the screening? It depends. There is no single “best” colorectal test. The first step is to talk to your doctor about what kind of test might be best for you. It can vary based on your own health, as well as when you were tested last. Some of the types of testing may include:
- Stool tests: A typically annual test to detect blood in the stool, which can sometimes be done at home.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: This test involves checking for polyps inside the rectum and the lower third of the colon with a thin tube. It’s usually recommended for every five years, or every 10 years, depending on previous screenings.
- Colonoscopy: Similar to a sigmoidoscopy,the doctor uses a thin tube but checks the rectum and all of the colon. This may act as a follow-up test if other tests have found anything unusual. Doctors should also be able to remove any polyps detected during the procedure. Generally, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years.
Know the symptoms
Colorectal cancer doesn’t always have symptoms, particularly at the early stages of the disease. This is why it’s so important to get screened appropriately. When symptoms do show, it might include blood in the stool, stomachaches that persist and sudden or unexplained weight loss. If any of these health issues are present, consider seeing a doctor.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, your doctor might recommend getting screened earlier. It’s also worth talking to your doctor about earlier screenings if you have a bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Colorectal cancer is treatable in the early stages of diagnosis but as the cancer progresses, it may be more difficult to cure. Getting tested for colorectal cancer doesn’t have to be scary. The more information you know, the better, so if you have questions about what screening is best for you, talk to your doctor.