Men and women over the age of 45 are at the highest risk of developing colorectal cancer, which is cancer that begins in the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States.
While those statistics may seem daunting, the good news is that even though it is a very common type of cancer, it is also very treatable and even preventable.
Most insurance plans will allow for a colonoscopy and other preventative screenings at little or no additional cost to you.
A routine colonoscopy is one way to prevent colorectal cancer. This screening can help find precancerous polyps or abnormal growths, and remove them before they turn into cancer. Polyps are very common, especially in people over the age of 65. In fact, about one out of every three adults over age 65 has polyps.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has lowered the colorectal cancer screening age to 45. This means all people at average risk should start screening for colorectal cancer at age 45. People at higher risk may need to be screened earlier according to their risk factors. Colorectal cancer is extremely common in the United States, and these new screening guidelines will save lives.
In his statement on the guidelines, Colorectal Cancer Alliance CEO Michael Sapienza said:
“This change will save thousands of lives. Lives of people who are just reaching the pinnacle of their careers, families, and contributions to society. These are, in many cases, moms and dads of young children. The impact cannot be overstated.”
What are the Risk Factors
These are the common risk factors for colorectal cancer. Though it is most common in adults over age 50, some people may require earlier or more frequent screenings. Talk to your doctor about these risk factors to see when you should start screening.
- Age: adults age 45 and older
- Personal or Family history
- Race: African Americans have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer
- Ethnicity: Eastern European Jews have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer
- IBD: Inflammatory Bowel Disorders, including Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, increases risk
- Lifestyle: Being overweight, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, smoking, and alcohol all increase risk factors
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure in which a doctor inserts a lighted tube with a camera on the end into the colon and rectum. During the procedure, special tools can be inserted into the tube to remove or take samples of suspicious-looking areas. These can later be biopsied to determine the presence of cancer or inflammation.
Before the procedure:
Before the procedure, patients are given special instructions about medications and diet. Some medications may need to be changed before the procedure. A bowel cleanse, usually with a laxative must also be done. Although this is unpleasant, it is important so the doctor can get a clear view of the colorectal area.
You will be given a sedative so make plans for someone to drive you home.
During the procedure:
During the procedure, you will lie on your side. You'll be given a sedative and your vital signs will be monitored throughout the screening. The doctor will insert the tube, or colonoscopy, and have a look around. If anything looks suspicious, the doctor will remove it or biopsy it and take a closer look under a microscope to determine if further action is necessary.
Why Should I Get Screened?
Being proactive about your health can save your life. Colonoscopies, screenings, and early detection of abnormalities can prevent serious illnesses and diseases. A routine colonoscopy is one of the most powerful and important ways you can prevent colorectal cancer or find it earlier when it is easier to treat. Ninety percent of people who find colorectal cancer early will still be alive five years later.
Too often, people do not get screened. If abnormalities are not discovered cancer can spread. Most people do not have symptoms of cancer until it is in the advanced stages and it is much harder to treat.
"Early detection is the best protection" is a catchphrase to help you remember to get tested.