One-third of Americans who are due for a colorectal cancer screening haven’t gotten one. That means millions of people who could have cancer, polyps, or other colon issues are totally unaware of it. Why aren’t people getting screened?
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force - a panel of independent medical experts - the main reasons are squeamishness and fear about the procedure. Despite these inhibiting factors, the panel recommended that all adults between ages of 50 and 75 have a screening, and that those with a family history start earlier.
How Common is Colon Cancer?
Doctors often find that their patients don’t know the risks of colorectal cancer. It’s the third most common cancer in men and the second most common in women. Those are frightening statistics, but here’s the silver lining: Colonoscopies bring a 61 percent risk reduction for cancer.
Colonoscopies are effective because they detect polyps, which can be a precursor to cancer and other colon health issues. Locating and removing polyps significantly reduces your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer.
Who’s at Higher Risk
Some people are at higher risk of cancer due to their family history and genetic makeup. The American Cancer Society lists these factors in determining high risk:
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease: ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome
In addition to these high risk factors, there are also additional known risk factors for colorectal cancer:
- Age. Colorectal cancer is more common in people over the age of 50.
- Family history age. If a family member was diagnosed with colorectal cancer before the age of 60, you may have a higher risk of developing it yourself.
- Ethnicity. African-American men and women are at higher risk, although the reasons are not fully understood. About 6% of American Jews who are of eastern European descent also have a higher risk, based on DNA.
- Lifestyle. People with high BMIs, diets high in red and processed meat, and heavy alcohol use have increased risk. An inactive lifestyle is also a contributor.
If you’re in a high risk group, it’s a good idea to check the American Cancer Society’s chart for specific guidelines on testing by risk category.
Types of Tests
There are several kinds of tests that screen for polyps and cancer, and they’re not all as invasive as you might imagine. A virtual colonoscopy, also called computed tomography (CT) colonography, uses an x-ray machine to examine the colon. This form of screening gained popularity in 2010, after President Barack Obama’s medical exam.
A home testing kit called Cologuard checks your stool for high levels of certain DNA that can indicate cancer. Other stool tests, called fecal occult-blood tests and fecal immunochemical tests, can screen for colorectal cancer without a physical exam.
The traditional colorectal screening exam is called a colonoscopy, where a long, flexible tube with a tiny camera is inserted into the rectum. There’s also a similar exam called a sigmoidoscopy, which examines just the lower portion of the colon.
What’s the Takeaway?
The main thing to keep in mind about colorectal cancer is that it’s highly treatable and preventable through early detection. Don’t wait to schedule a screening.
If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer, you can contact the Johnson Memorial Cancer Care Center for treatment options.