Prevent, treat and beat colorectal cancer

By Anne Miles | Jun 06, 2012

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be.

Risk increases with age, occurring most often in people 50 and older. Colorectal cancer affects both men and women equally. If everyone aged 50 years or older had regular screening tests, at least 60 percent of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.

Colorectal cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon (large bowel) or rectum. A polyp is a growth that shouldn’t be there. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer.

Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when the chance of being cured is good.

Colorectal cancer can start with no symptoms, which is why a screening test is so important.

Screening tests include:

• Stool tests (FOBT or FIT) – done at home, you collect small stool samples, usually from several stools, and send it back to the doctor’s office where it is checked for blood.

• Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – done in the doctor’s office, a short, thin, flexible lighted tube is inserted through the anus to check for polyps inside the rectum and the lower third of the colon.

• Colonoscopy – done at an endoscopy center or hospital, usually under anesthesia. Similar to Sigmoidoscopy, but the tube used is longer to visualize the entire colon, and if polyps are found, they can usually be removed at the same time. Colonoscopy is also used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.

Other tests available but not as commonly used are Double Contrast Barium Enema, Virtual Colonoscopy and Stool DNA tests.

Many insurance plans, including Medicare, help pay for colorectal cancer screening tests. If you have no insurance, please call 888-651-8931 to determine if you are eligible for a state-funded program.

If you’re 50 or older, or if you have a first-degree family relative (mother, father, brother or sister) who have had colon cancer before age 60, talk to your doctor today about getting screened for colorectal cancer. It could save your life!

Anne Miles is the health educator for Citrine Health, a non-profit agency in Everett. Citrine Health is one of the Department of Health prime contractors for the Breast, Cervical & Colon Health Program.

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