With a concerning new statistic showing a rise in colorectal cancer in younger adults, coupled with the fact that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the US, it’s now even more necessary to understand and discuss all of your options to detect colorectal cancer and treat it if it begins to develop. Associates In Digestive Health wants to educate all of our patients on everything available to detect the disease, as well as what to do if you see any symptoms of colorectal cancer.
How Often Should I Get Tested For Colorectal Cancer?
The long-standing recommendation to begin regular colonoscopies as a screening method to detect colorectal cancer was recently changed. The former recommendation was to begin once you reached age 50, with a follow-up every 10 years if the test was normal. Recently, the recommended age was lowered to 45, meaning the conversation about cancer screening needs to start even earlier.
What Are My Options?
There are several choices available to detect colorectal cancer, and here at Associates In Digestive Health, we recommend a colonoscopy as the best tool to detect colorectal cancer in its early stages. In fact, colonoscopies can actually detect precancerous growths and monitor them over time to see if they continue to develop. Similar testing, including sigmoidoscopy, are also frequently offered as a solution, but research has shown that the sigmoidoscopy is not as effective for testing in women as it is for men.
In addition to these tests offered in our office, there are also some at-home tests available on the market. While it may be tempting to forego a seemingly invasive test for something you can do at home, these tests, which include a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) and a Stool DNA Test (FIT-DNA), don’t provide the accurate results that a colonoscopy provides. At-home tests are done by collecting a stool sample and sending it off for testing. The stool samples are checked for DNA biomarkers, blood, and certain proteins. If the stool tests indicate a presence of blood or abnormalities, the patient will be advised to schedule a colonoscopy. There is a concern that needs to be noted: once an at-home test comes back positive any follow-up colonoscopy will be classified as a diagnostic procedure rather than screening and affects insurance payments. It is important to understand your individual coverage before making healthcare decisions.
While these tests have shown to reduce colorectal cancer deaths, their success rates do not match those of regular colonoscopies. The at-home tests can’t find precancerous polyps, meaning by the time the cancer is detected, it can already be advanced.
What Should I Do?
If you’re approaching 45, it’s time to book an appointment for your first colonoscopy. If you are a low-risk patient, age 45 is an ideal place to start, but if you’re in a higher risk category, you may need to start before then. Again, it is important to check your insurance coverage before scheduling your test. Most insurance companies have not followed the ACS recommendations for the lower screening age.
There are several things that may bump you up in risk categories, including a personal or family history of the disease, being overweight, having a poor diet, not exercising enough, smoking, or drinking. Furthermore, if you have any change in bowel habits, call us as it might be a sign to begin testing. Once we do your first exam, you don’t have to come back for another 10 years as long as the results are normal. If we detect some abnormalities, we may need to send off samples for testing and also see you more frequently than every 10 years. It is our goal at Associates In Digestive Health that all of our patients are properly educated in the importance of colorectal cancer screening while making sure to get regular exams. Make your appointment today, and don’t put off preventative health care!