Did you know that colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer death among American men and women combined? One out of every three people are not up-to-date with screenings.
Sadly, 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented with screening: in fact, getting screened routinely starting at age 45 or 50, at the latest — is the most effective way to reduce your risk.
Abnormal growths, called polyps, can form in the colon or rectum. Through screenings, they can be removed early, before becoming cancerous. A person’s CRC risk increases as they age; about 90 percent of cases occur in adults 50 and up.
Some risk factors include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
- A genetic syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
The U.S. Multi-Society Task Force of Colorectal Cancer recommends:
- People at average risk of CRC start regular screenings at 50.
- African Americans at average risk of CRC start regular screenings at 45.
- People in good health, and with a life expectancy of more than 10 years, continue regular CRC screenings through the age of 75.
- People ages 76 through 85 should make a decision regarding screenings with their medical provider, based on personal preferences, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history.
- People over 85 should no longer get CRC screening.
Decrease your risk for colorectal cancer with these lifestyle changes:
- Regular physical activity
- A diet high in fruits and vegetables
- A high-fiber, low-fat diet or one that eliminates processed meats (cold cuts, sausage, bacon)
- Eating less red meat
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Avoiding tobacco use.
The recommended tests fall into two categories:
Stool-based tests are non-invasive and require no special diet or bowel preparation. If the test shows abnormal signs of blood, or a possible cancer or pre-cancer, a colonoscopy will be needed to confirm the result, and possibly remove any abnormal findings or polyps.
Visual or Structural tests are invasive tests that look inside the colon and rectum for abnormal areas that might be cancer or polyps. If a stool-based test was done first and had an abnormal result, a visual test, such as colonoscopy, can help find out why.
To prepare, you are asked to follow a special diet in advance and will also need to clean out your colon with strong laxatives (called a bowel prep) and sometimes with enemas, as well. Most people are sedated during the test.
Talk to your care provider about which screening option is the best for you. The life you save could be your own!