Let's Talk About Colon Cancer Screening
Colon health is not something people often talk about, and many don't realize how significant it is. Yet, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. One in three people who are diagnosed with colon cancer will die of the disease. It's very important to catch colon cancer at early or pre-cancerous stages. The earlier we catch these pre-malignant lesions, the better the prognosis.
There are several available colon cancer screening testing strategies. The colonoscopy remains the most popular option because of its ability to directly visualize the colon and remove any discovered lesions that same day.
Many people fear having a colonoscopy, primarily because of stories they've heard about the preparation. Today's new cleansing medicines are much easier to tolerate, require less volume to drink, and improved monitoring procedures during the colonoscopy make the procedure more comfortable and pain-free than ever before.
If you are still leery of having a colonoscopy, there are less invasive alternatives. For example, at-home stool sample tests such as the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) helps identify microscopic blood that may be arising from the lower gastrointestinal tract or the newer stool-based test, most commonly known as Cologuard®, tests for blood and altered DNA in your stool which are associated with the possibility of cancer or pre-cancer. When any of these stool tests returns positive, a colonoscopy is always the next recommended step. It's recommended you to discuss these and other available colon cancer screening strategies with your healthcare provider.
Who Should be Screened
The majority of people with no family history of colon cancer or colon polyps should begin screening at age 50. African-Americans are at a slightly higher risk of developing pre-malignant polyps earlier in life, and thus should begin screening at age 45. If you have one first degree relative (parent or sibling) or two second degree relatives (grandparents, aunts or uncles) who have had colon cancer or high risk polyps, you are at a greater risk of developing pre-malignant polyps at an earlier age and should be screened sooner. I encourage everyone to discuss colon cancer screening and timing of testing with their healthcare professional during their routine health maintenance visits to ensure appropriate timing of testing.
Surveillance strategies are highly individualized. It's important to follow up with your doctor after any testing to have a clear plan in place moving forward. Talk to your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist about the colon cancer screening options that are available to you. You may find the prospect of having a colonoscopy isn't as bad as you've feared. Or you may select from other choices. We can work together as a team to provide a better experience and the best outcome for you.