Colorectal Cancer Screening Month: Getting checked could save your life | Ask A Doctor
Published Mar 6, 2018
Question: I’ll turn 50 next month. My friends tell me I’ll need a colonoscopy. I’m very healthy and wondering if that’s really necessary.
Answer: Your friends are well informed and well timed — March is National Colorectal Cancer Screening Month. Being screened for colorectal cancer can be life-saving. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 22 for men and 1 in 24 for women.
Colorectal cancer remains the second-leading cancer killer in this country. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 97,000 cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, along with 43,000 new cases of rectal cancer.
Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons against this disease.
Colorectal cancer usually starts from small benign growths, called polyps, in the large intestines. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer. Finding and removing small polyps early can actually prevent colorectal cancer from ever developing.
If cancer is already present, but found before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent.
Colorectal cancer is most curable when discovered BEFORE it causes any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they might include the following:
- A change in bowel habits;
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool (bright red or very dark);
- Abdominal (stomach) pain, aches or cramps or frequent gas pains, bloating; or
- Unexplained weight loss or fatigue.
(Note: The above symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. The only way to know is to get things checked out.)
If diagnosed with colon cancer, the Aurora Cancer Care Clinic in Two Rivers now offers the Varian “TrueBeam” advanced radiation system, which significantly reduces the time needed for radiation treatments, delivers the treatment in a way that protect patients’ healthy tissue and critical organs, and utilizes advanced imaging technology.
Colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” of colorectal screening procedures. It allows a physician to view the entire large intestine and see any inflamed tissue, growths, ulcers or bleeding. If anything abnormal is spotted (polyps or inflamed tissue) it can be removed during the procedure.
Many insurance companies cover a screening colonoscopy for people older than 50. Medicare part B covers several types of colorectal screening tests, including colonoscopy, which is covered once every 120 months, subject to deductibles and co-pays.
Other colorectal screening tests are available that check the stool (feces) for signs of cancer. These tests are less invasive and easier to have done, but are less likely to detect polyps. If anything is found using other screening tools, a colonoscopy will need to be performed.
Are you at increased risk?
You may need colorectal cancer screening earlier or more often if:
- You or a family member has had colorectal cancer or polyps;
- You have inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis); or
- You have a history of adenomatous polyps (adenomas)
- Also, people with type 2 (usually non-insulin dependent) diabetes also have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
There may be lots of reasons to put off being screened for colon cancer — such as the time involved, the possible costs and the advance preparation needed.
There is, however, one compelling reason you should do it — it can save your life.
So, to mark your upcoming milestone birthday, please give yourself a priceless gift of health — a colorectal screening.