Make a new year's resolution to be screened for colorectal cancer

December 26, 2012 Karlee J. Ausk, MD

We have come upon the time of year when we reflect back on the events of 2012 and look forward to new beginnings in 2013. About 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions every year and frequently these resolutions are health-related.

Why not let 2013 be the year you resolve to be updated on colorectal cancer screening?

Why should I worry about colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The average lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 5%. In the colon, cancer usually arises over time from abnormal polyps, called adenomas. This provides us the rare and life-saving opportunity to intervene and remove polyps to prevent cancer from developing. Pre-cancerous polyps or early cancers do not always cause symptoms, highlighting the need for routine screening.

Simply stated, there are large studies showing that screening for colorectal cancer prevents cancer. Screening saves lives. Screening detects cancer at an early and more treatable stage. How can you argue with that?

Who should be screened for colorectal cancer?

Regardless of your age, you should discuss any GI symptoms you are concerned about with your healthcare team.

If you are without symptoms, guidelines from several national organizations recommend colorectal cancer screening for the average patient over age 50. If you have a first-degree family member with colorectal cancer, you should start screening at age 40 (or 10 years before the age of that person at diagnosis if earlier than 40 years). There are other conditions that increase the need for screening, so feel free to ask your healthcare team if you have questions about when you should be screened based on your health history.

What tests are used for colorectal cancer screening?

There are a variety of tests available for colorectal cancer screening including colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, stool testing for hidden blood, CT scans, and stool testing for DNA changes. As a gastroenterologist, I believe that colonoscopy is the best test because we are not only able to detect early cancers, but also to identify and remove pre-cancerous polyps. However, I firmly believe that the best screening test is whatever test the patient is willing to perform at recommended intervals. Any abnormality on the less invasive testing should be followed by a colonoscopy to further evaluate.

Where can I find more information?

If you find yourself in this category and you have not been screened for colorectal cancer, please do yourself and your loved ones a favor and speak to your healthcare team about colorectal cancer screening.

The CDC has very helpful information on screening for colorectal cancer on their website.

And stay tuned to this blog in March (Colorectal Cancer Awareness month) for more information!

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