Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum, both of which are part of the large intestine.
The disease is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the US.
When caught early, the cancer can be cured.
Screening tests like colonoscopy can detect problems before symptoms even appear, and that is when treatments could work best.
Experts suggest that if you’re age 50 or older—or even younger if you’re at high risk—you should make time to talk with your doctor about getting screened for colorectal cancer.
Currently many Americans ages 50 and older don’t get screened for colorectal cancer, even though the screening is known to save lives,
According to researchers, the most common reason is that people don’t realize this screening is something they need to do.
Other common reasons include costs and inconvenience, such as taking time off from work.
Although researchers don’t yet know what causes colorectal cancer, they point out that certain factors can affect the risk.
The factors include smoking, excess weight, or having 3 or more alcoholic drinks per day.
Your risk also doubles if you have a family history of colorectal cancer.
Currently the 3 recommended tests for colorectal cancer are colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and home stool tests.
Each test has different benefits and drawbacks. Your health care provider may recommend one or more of these options.
Colonoscopy is the most accurate. The day before the test, you need to drink a special liquid or take prescription pills to cleanse your colon.
A doctor inserts a tiny camera attached to a long, thin, flexible tube into the rectum and colon.
Any growths the doctor sees, including polyps, can be removed during the procedure. Most polyps are harmless (benign), but some (called adenomas) can become cancer.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy also uses a camera attached to a tube, but the exam looks only at part of the large intestine.
To prepare for this test, you’ll need to have an enema (an injection of water into the rectum to cleanse the colon) the night before or the day of the procedure.
Sigmoidoscopy may let you know if there’s a reason to have a colonoscopy.
Another option is a home stool test. You can take this test at home using inexpensive or free kits from your doctor’s office or pharmacy.
After collecting a small sample of your stool, you mail or deliver it to a doctor or lab, where it will be tested for tiny amounts of blood, which could signal a problem.
Another screening test, called virtual colonoscopy or CT colonography, can scan the colon from the outside.
But whether it can work well is still unclear.
Experts suggest that you talk with a health care provider about when you should begin screening for colorectal cancer and, if so, which test(s) to get. You should not wait for symptoms to appear.
For more details about different screening options for colorectal cancer, visit gutcheck.cancer.gov.
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