March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn more about the different options you have when it comes to screening for colorectal cancer.
Regular screenings are essential to detecting colorectal cancer early, and early detection could help save your life or the life of a loved one.
While colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer, it’s the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. Additionally, recent data shows that colon cancer is impacting patients at younger ages than seen before. And while some people have symptoms that include blood in or on their stool after a bowel movement, and unexplained weight loss and stomach aches, pains or cramps that won’t go away, some people don’t have any.
“Anyone at average risk for colon cancer should begin regular screenings at 45 years old,” Alok Jain, MD, a gastroenterologist with Mercy Health – Lorain Gastroenterology, shares. “If you have an inflammatory bowel disease, certain genetic syndromes or a family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps, which are abnormal growths in the colon or rectum, you may be at higher risk for colon cancer and should have regular screenings, too.”
Have you been putting off your regular colonoscopy? Or maybe you’ve seen ads for at-home colon cancer screening kits and have wondered if they are a better option?
It can be overwhelming to understand which type of colorectal cancer screening is best for you. That’s why Dr. Jain is breaking down the different colorectal screenings, how they work and how often you need them.
Colonoscopies are the gold standard when it comes to screening for colorectal cancer. They involve using a long tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. If you’re 45 years or older, you should have a regular colonoscopy every 10 years. If you’re at higher risk for colorectal cancer or are experiencing symptoms, your doctor may have you do one sooner. Colonoscopies are also used as follow-up tests if anything unusual is found during other types of screenings.
High-Sensitivity Fecal Occult Blood Testing (FOBT) and Stool DNA Tests
If you’ve seen ads for at-home colon cancer screening kitswhile watching your favorite TV show, you may want to know more about at-home screening options. There are various kits you can use in the comfort of your own home that check for blood or cancer cells in your stool using various testing techniques. For example, Cologuard® examines stool DNA to detect DNA and blood cells in the sample you provide. These screenings are recommended every three years following a negative result.
Flexible Sigmoidoscopies (flex sig), Double Contrast Barium Enemas and Virtual Colonoscopies
Flex sig screenings, which lack sensitivity and specificity in comparison to colonoscopies, use a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer in the rectum and lower third of the colon. Double contrast barium enemas require patients to receive both a liquid and air enema so the doctor can see the outline of their colon on an X-ray. Virtual colonoscopies also use X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon. If a colonoscopy or at-home screening kit is available to you, these options will not be offered.
If it’s time for your regular colorectal cancer screening and you want to know more about your options, it’s important to talk to your health care provider. You should also review your insurance coverage, as insurance plans may or may not cover various screenings.
Whichever option you choose, what matters most is that you’re getting screened because screenings save lives.
Learn more about the gastroenterology and digestive health services we offer at Mercy Health.