Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is an important reminder that screening is instrumental in preventing colorectal cancer. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
A screening colonoscopy is more effective than any other internal cancer screening. It is a search for early-stage curable cancer and precancerous lesions in those without symptoms and no history of colon cancer or precancerous polyps.
Most doctors recommend adults at average risk get their first colonoscopy by age 45 to 50. A colonoscopy is a visual test to look inside your colon and rectum. It's the most accurate way to get a close-up view of what's going on in your large intestine. That's a real-time picture in 3-D, panning over five feet of your insides that you use every single day.
Take-home test kits look for signs of blood in your stool, which can signal a problem. You collect a sample of your stool at home, send it to a lab for testing and get the results from your doctor.
A recent study demonstrated that at-home stool tests are better at detecting late cancers than early cancers. The prognosis of colon cancer is strongly related to the stage at diagnosis. Stool tests are generally thought of as colon cancer detection tests, meaning cancer has already formed. This is different than colonoscopy, which is considered a preventive screening.
A colonoscopy is the only screening that can detect cancers at an earlier stage when treatment offers the best possible outcomes. That's why gastroenterologists consider colonoscopy the gold standard for colon cancer prevention.
"Colonoscopy gives us a way to find and remove abnormal tissue in the colorectal area before it grows into cancer," said Ross A. Heil, DO, Gastroenterologist at Goshen Physicians Gastroenterology. "In one procedure, we look at the health of the colon, remove growths and significantly lower the risk of cancer."
Risk factors and colonoscopy results determine the timing for how often screenings are needed. It is 10 years for those with average risk and a clean result from a colonoscopy – meaning no signs of polyps or abnormal tissue.
Stool tests – or FIT, which stands for fecal immunochemical test – need to be repeated every year. If the results show abnormalities or changes, the next step is a diagnostic colonoscopy.
Talk with your primary care provider about risk factors and your family history to determine when you need to have a colorectal cancer screening. To learn about your risks for colorectal cancer, take our online assessment at ShareAStool.com.
Goshen Health is the only endoscopic provider in north central Indiana to hold three-year certification from the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.