Colorectal Cancer: The Importance of Early Detection
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer death. Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time some of these polyps become colon cancers. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. That’s why doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by identifying polyps before they become colon cancer.
Several options are available for colorectal cancer screening, including a stool-based test that you can complete at home and a visual, or structural, exam of the colon that is performed by a specially trained physician in a hospital or outpatient-based setting.
Who should be screened?
Because of an increase in colorectal cancer detected in younger Americans, the American Cancer Society recently lowered the recommended age to begin colorectal cancer screenings from 50 years to 45 years, and to continue these screenings until at least age 75. Individuals age 76 to 85 should rely on their personal preferences, life expectancy, general health and history of screenings to decide if further screening is necessary.
Individuals with an above-average risk of colon cancer should work closely with their physician to ensure appropriate testing is completed as recommended. These include people that have a personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps, family history of colorectal cancer, personal history of IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, confirmed or suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome, or a personal history of receiving radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat prior cancers. The best way to know if you have colorectal cancer – before you have symptoms – is to be screened for the disease. However, when symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Any change in the usual pattern or frequency of bowel habits
- Diarrhea, constipation, or a feeling that your bowels have not emptied completely
- Blood in the stool that is either bright red or very dark
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Frequent gas pains, cramping, or bloating
Types of Screenings
Stool-based tests are most often a kit that can be taken home and performed in private, while the visual, or structural exam of the colon and rectum involves a colonoscopy screening test at a hospital or outpatient endoscopy center.
The stool-based tests include a highly sensitive fecal immunochemical test, or FIT test, which requires a doctor’s order, as well as the highly sensitive guaiac-based fecal occult blood test, or FOB test, which is used to find occult or hidden blood in the feces. Both of these exams should be done every year.
Visual exams of the colon and rectum include colonoscopies and flexible sigmoidoscopies. A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope is attached to a small video camera and passed through the rectum. Polyps or lesions that are found are usually removed and sent to the laboratory for examination. A flexible sigmoidoscopy involves a slender, hollow, lighted tube, or sigmoidoscope, connected to a video camera and inserted into the colon through the rectum and lower part of the colon, known as the sigmoid colon. The doctor looks at the inside of the rectum and sigmoid colon for cancer and/or polyps. If a premalignant polyp is detected during sigmoidoscopy, the patient should have a colonoscopy to screen the remainder of the colon.
Where to Complete the Screenings
Silver Cross Hospital offers colorectal cancer screenings, including colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy, at our Advanced Endoscopy Center, and beginning in mid-July, at the new outpatient Silver Cross Endoscopy Center, conveniently located on the east side of the hospital campus at 678 Cedar Crossings Drive. For more information, visit www.silvercross.org.
Free FOB colon cancer kits can be ordered online through our website, mailed to you by calling 815-300-7091 to request one, or picked up at the Senior Advantage office near the main lobby of the hospital.