Did you know colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, accounting for 8% of all cancer diagnoses? Screening for colorectal cancer is recommended starting at age 45 in patients deemed to be average risk. Those at high risk need to have their colonoscopy even earlier. Patients at elevated risk include those with a family history of colon cancer, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, and those with certain genetic mutations that increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is a largely preventable illness and can be caught with recommended screening. Screening for colorectal cancer has been shown to decrease the risk of dying from this cancer. Appropriate tests for screening include colonoscopy, stool testing for blood, and CT colonography. The test with the greatest ability to catch colon cancer or a pre-cancerous polyp is a colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, the doctor uses a long flexible fiberoptic camera and is able to directly visualize the colon to identify any abnormal lesions. The purpose is to identify colon cancer at an early stage before it spreads or to identify and remove polyps. Polyps are growths that can develop into cancer if not removed. Polyps can be removed during the colonoscopy procedure with a snare, which is like a lasso that wraps around the polyp and cuts it off. Preparation for a colonoscopy includes a taking only a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure and a laxative preparation the night before.
Stool based testing needs to be performed every 1 to 3 years, providing the test is normal. There is no preparation required for these tests. These tests look for microscopic levels of blood in the stool or for DNA seen in cancerous or pre-cancerous colon lesions. If blood or abnormal DNA is detected, then a colonoscopy is indicated to evaluate for colon cancer or pre-cancerous polyps.
CT colonography uses CAT scan imaging to look inside the colon for any irregularities that could be consistent with cancer or pre-cancerous polyps. This needs to be performed at least every 5 years. However, this test requires drinking the same laxative preparation required before a colonoscopy.
Screening for colon cancer should be performed in the general population starting at age 45 and sooner for those at increased risk. Schedule your consultation with us at Houston Digestive Diseases Consultants today to get setup for your colorectal cancer screening!