If someone told you there was a simple test that could aid tremendously in the fight against colorectal cancer, wouldn’t you want to make sure you knew all the details? Colorectal cancer, that is cancer of either the colon or the rectum, is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women combined. Although that number sounds scary, there is actually some good news associated with it. Deaths from colon colorectal cancer have been on the decline for the past several decades due at least in part to this simple tool that’s available to everyone: a colonoscopy.
Let’s Start With The Basics: What Is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a cancer that affects the colon or the rectum. They’re grouped together under one category since they have many similar features. The disease most often starts in the form of something called a polyp. A polyp is a small growth within the lining of the colon or rectum. Most of these polyps remain benign, while others can develop into cancer, usually happening over the course of several years.
How Is Colorectal Cancer Detected?
Detecting early stage colorectal cancer can sometimes be a challenge. The symptoms are very similar to other ailments of the gastrointestinal tract, meaning that some people can pass them off as something less serious. These symptoms include a change in bowel and bathroom habits that lasts more than a few days, severe stomach pain and cramping, blood in the stool, weakness and fatigue, and unintended weight loss. These symptoms don’t always indicate cancer, but they should still be taken seriously and warrant a trip to Associates in Digestive Health for a checkup.
One of the best and most accurate tools that can detect colorectal cancer is a regular colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a simple exam that usually lasts an hour or less. A doctor will insert a thin tube that can travel through the entire length of the colon and rectum. The lighted tube is equipped with a camera, allowing us to view the gastrointestinal tract and check for polyps or abnormalities. If anything out of the ordinary is detected, it will be tested to determine if it’s cancerous.
I’m Healthy. Why Do I Need A Colonoscopy?
Unfortunately, colorectal cancer isn’t limited to one type of person. Although there are certain risk factors that may place you at a higher likelihood of having the disease, there are no certainties. These risk factors include an unhealthy lifestyle or diet, being obese or overweight, or frequent alcohol or tobacco use. African Americans are also at higher risk.
The one most common risk factor that doctors base their testing guidelines on is age. The current recommendation for starting colonoscopies is at age 50, which is when the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer increases. Most patients can wait for another 10 years before their next colonoscopy. Depending upon your results and your individual circumstances, we might recommend them more frequently.
At Associates in Digestive Health, we want all of our patients to understand their risk factors for colorectal cancer, but more importantly, the tools we have in the fight against it. If you’re still thinking of New Year’s resolutions to stick to this year, make it getting a colonoscopy. If you’re an existing patient or a new patient who has already turned 50, or is approaching 50, make an appointment with us today to discuss all of your options.