It can be easy to delay colon screenings. However, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in adults in the U.S., and it is one of the most preventable.
Screening is the number one way you can help reduce your risk of colon or rectal cancer. In fact, if the cancer is detected early and diagnosed at a localized stage, meaning it has not spread, the five-year survival rate is 88 percent. For colorectal cancer, timing is everything, and a key reason for talking with your doctor about scheduling a preventive screening.
Here are some of the important questions my patients often ask me about colon cancer screening and their options.
When should I get screened for colon cancer?
At Ascension sites of care, our recommendation is that as you are getting close to age 45, you should be talking with your doctor about regular colorectal screenings. But if you are having symptoms, you should reach out sooner. I talk with my patients about their family history, because if they have a family history, we may need to begin screenings earlier.
Earlier screening may be recommended if you have a family history, certain genetic conditions, or are having rectal bleeding or changes in your bowel habits. Discuss with your doctor the right age for you to start screening.
What are my options for colon cancer screening?
We’ll discuss the screening options and timing that are right for you, for your health concerns and for your age. Colonoscopies are generally the preferred type of colon screening, but there are several options available:
- Computed tomographic colonography/virtual colonoscopy
- Annual stool fecal immunochemical testing (FIT)
- Stool-based deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing
If either of the above mentioned stool tests are positive, you will need a colonoscopy. You may also need more screening if you are considered high-risk. Talk with your doctor about which screening option is right for you.
I am a healthy 50 year old with no symptoms or health history, why do I need colon cancer screening?
I encourage my patients to start screenings even if they are feeling healthy and have no symptoms. Your risk for colon cancer increases as you get older. And by the time a person has symptoms, the cancer may be in an advanced stage. That’s why starting discussions with your doctor and routine screening is important.
Most colon cancers begin as benign, or non-cancerous, polyps. Getting regular colon screenings, such as a colonoscopy, may help find polyps and cancer early, when they are most treatable.
What increases my risk for colon cancer?
When I first meet with my patients, I talk through their family history and risk factors. Factors that may increase your risk for colon cancer include the following:
- If you have multiple first-degree relatives, meaning parents, siblings or children, with colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- History of certain genetic disorders such as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer also know as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis.
Other high risk factors include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Physical inactivity
- A diet high in red or processed meats
- Heavy alcohol use
Although you cannot change your age or genetics, you can help reduce your risk through diet and exercise.
Don’t delay care and schedule your screening today
You can help reduce your risk for colon or rectal cancer by scheduling your screening today. Schedule an appointment with your primary care care doctor to talk about screening options. To find a doctor near you, click here.