Colon Cancer: Prevention Education
Colorectal (colon) cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and women, not counting some kinds of skin cancer and is the fourth leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States. Fortunately, regular screening, education on risks, and talking with your primary care provider are easy forms of prevention.
Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. Which is why screening is so important. Some symptoms that can appear are:
A change in bowel movements
Blood in or on stool (bowel movement)
Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way
Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that won’t go away
Losing weight without trying
If you are age 45 or if you are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Your doctor may recommend a screening test. There are several different type of screening tests such as:
The guaiac based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) is a test that is done once a year using the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool. This test is done at home and is returned to your provider to be processed for the presence of blood.
The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is another test taken at home that uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool.
The FIT-DNA test is a combination of the FIT test and another test that can detect altered DNA in the stool. This test collects an entire bowel movement to be sent to the lab and checked for altered DNA and the presence of blood.
Uses a short, thin, flexible lighted tube that is inserted into the rectum. This test allows the doctor to check for polyps or cancer in the lower third of the colon.
Like the previous test except a longer, think, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. This is typically used as a follow up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.
CT Colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
Uses x-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon.
Wondering which test is right for you? Your primary care provider will take multiple factors into consideration when scheduling your test like:
Your personal preferences
Your current medical condition
Your personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
If you have certain genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch Syndrome)
When seeing your primary care provider, don’t hesitate to ask questions about what they are recommending. Questions like:
“Do I need to get a screening test for colorectal cancer?”
“What screening test(s) do you recommend for me? Why?”
“How do I prepare? Do I need to change my diet or my usual medications before taking the test?”
“What is involved in the test? Will it be uncomfortable?”
“Is there any risk involved?”
“When and from whom will I get results?”
These questions can help resolve any confusion and anxiety regarding the screening tests and can make the process much easier.
Discussing tests and screenings can cause fear and anxiety in some, but fortunately there are ways to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. The number one most effective way is to begin regular screening at age 45 (or earlier if recommended by your primary care provider). Even if you are not at the age to begin regular screenings, there are things you can do now that are also effective at reducing your risk, such as:
Eating a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Making healthy choices such as exercising regularly, keeping a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco use.