From blood pressure to cholesterol, there are many screenings Americans accept as part of their health routine without a second thought. At the age of 50, a colorectal cancer screening joins the list of recommended screenings, and yet 22 million Americans ignore or put off this particular test.
Candidly speaking, it's not the most pleasant screening to consider. However, the potential for long term health rewards far out way any temporary discomforts.
Colorectal Screening Options
There are several types of colorectal cancer screenings, and the most commonly used are:
• fecal occult blood testing: tests stool sample for blood
• sigmoidoscopy: checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon
• colonoscopy: examines the rectum and the entire colon for polyps or cancer
Though less common, a virtual colonoscopy is a newer procedure that uses CTSCAN and digital technology to create 3D images of the rectum and entire colon. This may be a good option for patients who had a failed colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy: The Screening That's More Than a Screening
Colonoscopy is the gold standard of colorectal cancer screenings for several reasons — the first being that it is the most proven and thorough examination. However, this procedure is much more than a screening tool. Not only does it check for cancer — it can prevent or even remove cancer on the spot.
During a colonoscopy, your physician may find a polyp (abnormal growth) and remove it during the process. The polyp can be tested to see if it's cancerous.
"While most polyps are noncancerous, removing them can actually prevent future cancer from forming," said Monroe Clinic Gastroenterologist Wissam Mattar, MD. "Deaths from colon cancer have decreased over the past 20 years as screening rates increase."
But when it comes to getting screened, there is still room for improvement. Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. An estimated 30,000 lives would saved each year with increased awareness and screening.
And unlike blood pressure or cholesterol screenings, the good news is if the results are normal, a person of average risk won't need another colonoscopy for 10 years.