As we spring into March, it seems appropriate to remind you that it’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer, cancer of the colon or rectum, is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectaloving precancerous polyps early, or by detecting cancer early when treatment is the most effective. If you’re at a higher risk for colorectal cancer, or if you find that you’re having symptoms such as blood in your stool, chronic stomach pains, or unexplained weight loss, please schedule a screening sooner rather than later.
There are several tests that can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force outlines the following screening strategies. Discuss with your doctor which tests are right for you, and check with your insurance provider to confirm which ones are covered by your plan.
Stool tests: Guaiac fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and FIT-DNA test (also referred to as the stool DNA test)
Description: The gFOBT and FIT are used to find tiny amounts of blood in the stool that could be a sign of cancer or large polyps. You’ll get a take-home test kit from your healthcare provider along with instructions. The stool DNA test combines the FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in the stool. For this test, you collect an entire bowel movement and send it to a lab to be checked for cancer cells.
How often: Annually
Test: Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
Description: For this test, your doctor will put a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. If polyps are found, they may be removed during the test, or you may need to have a colonoscopy later.
How often: Every 5 years, or every 10 years with FOBT or FIT every three years.
Description: Your doctor will use a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube with a camera on the end to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and colon. During this 20- to 30-minute test, your doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Colonoscopy is also used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.
How often: Every 10 years.
Test: Computed Tomography (CT) Colonography
Description: Also called a virtual colonoscopy, this test pumps air into the rectum and colon and uses X-rays and computers to produce detailed images that are displayed on a computer screen for your doctor to analyze. If something is seen that may need to be biopsied, a follow-up colonoscopy will be needed.
How often: Every 5 years.
Dr. Amit Kharod is the Chief of Surgery at CentraState Medical Center, and is the founder of Advanced Surgical Health Associates (ASHA). Along with physicians Dr. Thomas Kayal and Dr. Michael Menack, ASHA offers a wide array of minimally invasive robotic and laparoscopic procedures that treat a variety of conditions, including diseases of the colon and rectum, fecal incontinence, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, and chronic constipation. In addition, they offer testing for chronic constipation, fecal incontinence, and esophageal reflux.