Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Approximately 93 percent of cases of CRC are diagnosed in men and women over the age of fifty. Risk increases significantly with age. Often considered to be a male-predominant disease, CRC can strike men and women equally. In fact, more women over the age of 75 die from colon cancer than from breast cancer.
If you are at risk, in addition to screening for colon cancer, get to know the possible treatments, so if the tests come back positive you are ready to discuss the options with your physician.
No Symptoms. Typically, CRC begins with no symptoms at all. Despite the obvious benefits of early detection, many people are still reluctant to seek tests for CRC. They hold the mistaken belief that a positive diagnosis is little short of a death sentence.
Statistically, nothing could be further from the truth. If the disease is detected while the malignant growth is confined to the colon or rectum, the five-year survival rate is as high as ninety percent.
Routine Tests That Save Lives. According to James S. Marks, MD, Director of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of the Center for Disease Control, CRC “is one cancer where regular screening clearly has benefits. Screening saves lives.”
The American Cancer Society (ACS), for instance, estimates that regular screening with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) can reduce deaths from CRC by at least one third. The ACS also emphasizes that approximately ninety percent of all deaths from the disease are thought to be preventable through early detection. More information about this test is available on our FOBT page.
Screening is the single best way to detect polyps or pre-cancerous growths in the colon or rectum. If the polyps are removed, before they become malignant or the disease has spread to other parts of the body, the condition is usually curable.
Early detection and polyp removal (polypectomy) are the key to effective treatment.
When To Start. Specialists recommend that both men and women at average risk should start screening at age fifty. People at increased risk should start screening earlier, including those with a personal or family history of CRC or other types of malignancy such as breast, uterus or prostate cancer.
Screening options: An Overview. Screening tests involve checking or screening for CRC cancer before symptoms become evident, when a polyp is at the pre-malignant stage.
Most screening methods look for the presence of polyps or other possible bowel cancer symptoms. Screening tests for CRC usually include four common tests.
Digital Rectal Exam (DRE): The physician uses a finger to feel for abnormalities or to detect blood in the rectum or anus.
Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT): A simple stool test can detect minute amounts of blood that are invisible to the naked eye. Blood may be caused by a pre-cancerous bleeding polyp or an existing cancerous lesion.
Sigmoidoscopy and Colonoscopy: Both tests involve using a camera inserted through the rectum to locate and assess irregularities in the colon.
Contrast X-rays: This procedure is designed to find abnormalities in the outline of the bowel. A double contrast barium enema is used to enhance the x-ray images.
Make an Appointment Today!
Even if you have no bowel cancer symptoms at all but are age fifty or older, make an appointment with your physician to discuss available screening options and the benefits and risks associated with each test.
Screening is particularly important if you have a family history of the condition or any other inflammatory bowel disease.
|As many as 75 percent of new cases of CRC are diagnosed in people with no known risk factors apart from being fifty or older.|
Determining Risk with a Blood Test
According to the results of a study performed at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, a chemical in the blood may indicate the risk or presence of colon cancer:
Those with a family history of CRC are five times more likely to have the marker.
Those with polyps are three times more likely to have the marker.
Those with CRC or who have a history of CRC are 22 times more likely to have the marker.
These results mean that at some point, possibly as soon as five years from now, a blood test could be available. Only those with a high risk, as indicated by the presence of the marker in the blood, would need additional testing.