According to the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology, more than 150,000 people will be diagnosed with new cases of colorectal cancer this year, and more than 50,000 people will die as a result of the disease. The good news: Cancer screening can help catch cancer in its early stages before it has a chance to progress.
In fact, cancer screening is so effective, rates of cancer deaths have declined in recent years among people age 50 and older — the age group most at risk for colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, the opposite is true among younger people — and that could be because only 70% of people eligible for screening remain up to date on this critical testing.
At his practice in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, helps patients reduce their risks of colorectal cancer with regular screenings based on the most recent guidelines from the American College of Gastroenterology, the American Cancer Society, and other key health agencies.
In recognition of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, this post reviews some of the most important information you need to know about colorectal cancer screening and your health.
Colorectal cancer screenings: The basics
The goal of colorectal cancer screening is to look for abnormal changes in your colon and rectum that could be a sign of an early stage of cancer. There are two primary types of cancer screening tests available: stool-based tests that evaluate a sample of your stool and structural tests (colonoscopies) that look directly at your colon and rectum.
Also called fecal occult blood tests, the stool-based tests are typically done at home using a special collection kit. After collecting a small amount of stool following a bowel movement, you send the sample to a lab where it’s evaluated for signs of blood — a potential indicator of colorectal cancer. If any blood is discovered, you’ll need to have a colonoscopy for further evaluation.
Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening. In this test, the doctor uses a special scope equipped with a tiny camera to view your rectum and colon. The scope is also capable of taking tiny tissue samples and removing small polyps for further evaluation. The test is performed while you’re sedated, and the day prior to your test, you’ll need to take a special solution that helps you empty your bowel entirely.
Personal screening recommendations
The agencies that developed colorectal cancer screening guidelines based the recommendations in part on whether or not you have risk factors for the disease. During your office visit, Dr. Tarlowe reviews your personal and family medical histories and asks questions about your lifestyle, including your smoking history, to determine your risk factors so he can make recommendations appropriate for your risk profile.
For people at average risk of colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends regular screening starting at age 45 using either of the two types of screening described above. Regular screening should continue through age 75, after which the decision of whether or not to screen and how often can be made on an individual basis.
People who have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer are those with risk factors including:
- Personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Family history of certain hereditary bowel syndromes
- Personal history of radiation therapy to the belly area
If you have one or more of these risk factors, Dr. Tarlowe may recommend screening beginning at an earlier age or occurring more frequently. Typically colonoscopy is preferred over stool tests for people with increased risk of cancer.
Keep your screening up to date
Colorectal cancer screening might seem like a hassle, but this one simple test could wind up saving your life. To learn more about the options we offer or to find out if it’s time for your screening, call 954-210-7127 or book an appointment online with Dr. Tarlowe today.