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According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The good news is that colorectal cancer is treatable and survivable if it’s caught early. The five-year relative survival rate for people with stage I colon cancer is about 92%. That rate drops to about 63% for stage IIB.
The trouble is, colorectal cancer doesn’t usually cause you trouble until it’s fairly advanced — there are no symptoms at early stages. That’s why screenings are critical.
Screening is the process of looking for cancer or pre-cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease. Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer.
The American Cancer Society believes that preventing colorectal cancer (and not just finding it early) should be a major reason for getting tested. Having polyps found and removed keeps some people from getting colorectal cancer. You are encouraged to have tests that have the best chance of finding both polyps and cancer, if these tests are available to you and you are willing to have them. But the most important thing is to get tested, no matter which test you choose.
Colorectal cancer occurs more frequently in men and women over 50, but there are exceptions to this age marker for risk. These include:
If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your provider and schedule a colonoscopy. If not, it’s likely you can wait until you’re 50 years old to add this to your preventive health appointment.
Tests that can find both colorectal polyps and cancer, such as a colonoscopy, are encouraged if they are available and you are willing to have them. But the most important thing is to get tested, no matter which test you choose.
Depending on your risk factors, it may be possible to do a less invasive screening than a colonoscopy, such as a FIT, or Fecal Immunochemical Test.
FIT — Most colon cancer begins with polyps, but often, the first sign of colon cancer is microscopic blood in the stool. This test is sent home with you so that you can collect samples in the privacy of your home and does not involve an exam. If your test is positive, your provider will likely advise a colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy — For this test, the doctor looks at the entire length of the colon and rectum with a colonoscope, a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end. The pictures provided by this exam give your provider the most information. Any biopsies are collected at the time of the colonoscopy.
If there’s any good news about colon cancer, it’s that it’s a slow-growing cancer. Because polyps are easily detected in a colonoscopy, it’s both effective for screening and monitoring any benign (noncancerous) growths.
That means, if your colonoscopy is clean and you have no other critical risk factors, you only need to have a colonoscopy every ten years.
If you choose to use the FIT test, it should be repeated each year if you’re over 50 years old, even if the results are negative.
The presences of polyps doesn’t automatically mean cancer. Polyps are biopsied and often removed because a polyp can, in time, turn into cancer. If you do have polyps, we recommend annual colonoscopy for both your peace of mind and to monitor changes.
Some cancers are hereditary. You may be at risk simply because it runs in your family. We call this a “non-modifiable” risk. You can’t change your family history.
On the other hand, the reason we advise patients over 50 years old to have a colonoscopy is because over time, what we eat affects our bodies. This is a “modifiable risk” which means, changing how you eat can make a big difference.
We know from research that high fiber and primarily plant-based diets are the most effective at preventing colon cancer.
Other dietary advice includes:
Right now is a good time to talk to your provider about your risks for colorectal cancer. Screenings can save your life! If you haven’t talked with your provider about your risks, or if you’ve been putting off this critical screening, call us today. Vera now offers FIT tests for you to conduct a screening in the privacy of your home. Call your clinic location to learn more.
And if you need help modifying your lifestyle to lower your risks, we can help with that, too. Just ask for an appointment with a Vera coach and get started. It’s all part of taking good care of yourself.
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