I Think It’s Time For A Screening: Raising the Need for Colon Screening

March 14, 2024

Defining Colorectal Cancer

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, begins in the large intestine or the rectum, which are parts of the lower section of the digestive system. This type of cancer typically starts from small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps that form on the inside of the colon.

Over time, some of these polyps can become colon cancers. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they turn into cancer.

When to Consider Additional Screening

Several conditions and factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing colorectal cancer, thereby necessitating earlier or more frequent screenings. These conditions include:

  • A personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • A family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
  • A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
  • Being of African-American descent, as studies have shown higher rates of colorectal cancer in this population.
  • Aged 45 or older, as the risk of colorectal cancer increases with age.

Updated Guidelines for Colorectal Screening

If you noticed the last point, The American Cancer Society now advises that adults at average risk for colorectal cancer should begin regular screenings at age 45, a decrease from the previously recommended starting age of 50. This change is in response to the rising incidence of colorectal cancer among younger adults.

Additionally, the guidelines emphasize the importance of selecting the appropriate screening test, including colonoscopies, fecal immunochemical tests (FIT), and stool DNA tests. The choice of screening method should be based on individual risk factors, preferences, and discussions with healthcare providers.

Significant Differences in Colorectal Screening Tests

The major colorectal cancer screening tests vary significantly in their detection method, preparation required, and testing frequency.

Colonoscopies, regarded as the gold standard, involve a comprehensive examination of the colon and rectum using a long, flexible tube equipped with a camera. This test detects polyps and cancer and allows for the immediate removal of polyps. A bowel cleanse is required before the procedure and is recommended every 10 years for individuals at average risk.

Fecal Immunochemical Tests (FIT), on the other hand, are non-invasive and focus on detecting blood in the stool, a possible sign of cancer. These tests are done annually and do not require any special preparation.

The Stool DNA Test is another non-invasive option that checks for certain DNA mutations in cells shed by polyps or cancer in the stool. This test is recommended every three years and can be done at home, although it does require the entire stool sample to be sent to a lab. Each screening option has its own benefits and limitations, making it essential for individuals to discuss the most appropriate method with healthcare providers based on their risk profile and personal preferences.

What Symptoms to Be Concerned About?

While colorectal cancer may not always present noticeable symptoms in its early stages, several signs should prompt immediate consultation with a healthcare provider. These symptoms include:

  • Persistent change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort (such as cramps, gas, or pain)
  • The feeling that the bowel doesn’t completely empty
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

It’s imperative to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by other health conditions, making it crucial to seek professional medical advice for an accurate diagnosis.

If you are 45 or older and haven’t gotten screened, please contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible or set up an appointment with the GI Specialists at Gastro Florida.