Lifesaving test: Common cancer can be prevented by regular screening
Special to The Union
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
In addition to regular screening, understanding the risks associated with colorectal cancer is key.
Who is at risk?
Colorectal cancer occurs more often in people aged 50 years and older. Risk increases with age. Both men and women can develop colorectal cancer.
Am I at increased risk?
Your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if:
— You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
— You have inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis
— You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer
Talk to your doctor about your risk for colorectal cancer, when to begin screening, and which test is right for you.
Colorectal cancer affects one in 25 people in the United States. It is the second leading cause of cancer death. It is the third most common cancer in both men and women.
And yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control, among adults aged 50 to 75 years old (the age group at highest risk), one-quarter have never been screened for the disease.
“This is a preventable disease,” says Benjamin A. Brichler, MD, gastroenterologist with Sierra Nevada Gastroenterology. “We can prevent this cancer and potentially prevent the need for surgery and chemotherapy… and prevent people from dying from it. We can do this through screening.”
Dr. Brichler says colorectal cancer is often asymptomatic. Ideally, colorectal cancer is found through routine screening before the patient experiences symptoms.
“Sometimes people may experience a change in bowel habits or rectal bleeding,” explains Dr. Brichler. “Occasionally, they may feel abdominal pain, or they may have abnormal bloodwork showing a low iron level. But by the time symptoms are present, the cancer may be at a more advanced stage.”
That’s why regular screening is the best weapon in the fight against colorectal cancer.
Dr. Brichler says for people at average risk for colon cancer, screening should start at age 50 with a colonoscopy (every 10 years if normal), stool card testing annually, or Cologuard every three years.
For people with increased risk for colorectal cancer, screening should begin earlier with colonoscopy.
“If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, screening should start at age 40 (or 10 years prior to the age of diagnosis if the affected family member was younger than 50), and colonoscopy is the recommended test,” says Dr. Brichler.
Dr. Brichler points out that the colonoscopy is not only a diagnostic test but can also be therapeutic and decrease your risk for developing colorectal cancer.
During the procedure, if a precancerous polyp is spotted, it can be removed, preventing the cancer from developing before it even begins.
“The colonoscopy is a lifesaving test,” says Dr. Brichler. “Whether it prevents cancer from developing or finds cancer in the earliest stages, colorectal cancer screening saves lives.”
For those avoiding a colonoscopy out of fear, Dr. Brichler says the hardest part is the prep before the test, in which the patient switches to a liquid diet and drinks a prep drink that cleans out the bowels.
“The bowel prep is the toughest part,” explains Dr. Brichler. “But even that process has improved over time, making it easier for the patient. The only other requirement is having a ride home following the exam.”
The CDC also stresses that colorectal screenings save lives, pointing to strong scientific, research-based evidence.
“We can prevent cancer and that is a fantastic thing,” says Dr. Brichler. “Everyone knows someone affected by this disease. We can and should prevent it from affecting more.”
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