Though it can be a tough subject to talk about, it’s an important one. Your colon and rectal health are essential. Taking the time to put your health first and complete routine screenings can save your life.
- Risks increase after age 50, but polyps may begin several years earlier
- Manage risk factors like diet, exercise, tobacco use, and alcohol consumption
- Make a routine appointment for a colonoscopy to catch it early
Colon cancer is almost entirely preventable! But here’s the thing, colorectal cancer can strike without any symptoms at all. Get screened, catch it early, and outcomes are often positive.
There are risk factors you can modify, like:
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol consumption
All of these are great places to start in terms of proactive management of your health. However, without proper screening, there’s no way to know the true state of your colorectal health.
Then, there are non-modifiable risk factors. You can’t choose your parents or family genetics, and you can’t do anything about getting older. Each of these risk factors can contribute to your vulnerability to colon cancer.
So, what can you do to advocate for your own health and future? Make a routine appointment for colorectal screening.
There are a few different screening methods approved by the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventative Services Taskforce:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT scan colonography
The preferred screening method is a colonoscopy. It’s considered the gold standard for screening, the best testing method, the most accurate at providing reliable results, and it’s the most comfortable for patients.
During the colonoscopy, your physician will examine your entire large intestine for abnormalities, including growths or inflammation. The test is performed in a specialized endoscopy suite with nurses and monitors, and usually intravenous sedation, and the exam usually takes around 30 minutes.
There are other tests, including flexible sigmoidoscopy, double contrast barium enema, which is an x-ray study. A CT scan colonography, which is a CAT scan study. And there are even some stool tests where the samples of stool are sent off to look for hidden blood or some genetic abnormalities. All of these methods are ‘get your foot in the door’ tests that provide basic screening.
When to get screened
To detect colon cancers and colon polyps early, the American Cancer Society recommends performing certain screening examinations at regular intervals.
While the risk of colon and rectal cancer starts to increase after age 50, the risk of colon polyps may begin to rise several years earlier. Patients are often divided into risk groups which help to define what screening they need.
Medicare has been covering screening colonoscopies for all Medicare beneficiaries since 2000. So, in Washington state, there is virtually no reason why someone shouldn’t make an appointment for routine screening.
Set up an appointment. Be empowered to play an important role in your health. We’re here to help you along the way.
Authored by: Dr. Mitra Ehsan