Understanding Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer remains the third most common cancer in both men and women in this country. The estimated lifetime risk for men is one in 23 and for women is one in 25.
Did you know that colorectal cancer can be prevented?
Regular screening colonoscopy with removal of polyps can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by almost 90%. Colorectal cancer usually starts out as a benign growth which we call a polyp. Some colon polyps can grow into cancer; therefore, identification and removal of polyps with colonoscopy can prevent colorectal cancer.
Now, we recommend colorectal cancer screening for everyone at age 45. For anyone with a family history of colorectal cancer in a close relative or multiple relatives, screening may need to start at age 40 or 10 years prior to the age at which a family member was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
How do I get screened?
If you are 45 or older or have a family history of colorectal cancer, ask your doctor to refer you to a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists are specialists in diseases of the digestive system and in performing colonoscopy. Most commercial insurances are now covering screening colonoscopy at age 45.
What about stool tests?
Colonoscopy is the only one-step screening and prevention test. Stool tests such as Cologuard and FIT are two-step tests. These tests require a stool sample to look for blood or altered DNA. A positive result would lead to the second step of colonoscopy for further evaluation. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or have a history of polyps, stool tests are not a suitable screening option.
I’m fine and have no symptoms!
Colon polyps and colorectal cancer can commonly develop without any symptoms. Waiting until symptoms develop can mean the cancer is more advanced and less likely to be curable. Remember, the single biggest modifiable risk factor for colorectal cancer is failure to get screened. Talk to your doctor today about getting a colonoscopy.
The estimated lifetime risk for colorectal cancer in men is one in 23 and for women is one in 25.