Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The good news is that in many cases, it is preventable or curable when detected early.
During Colon Cancer Awareness month, CHI St. Alexius Health is sharing the importance of colon cancer screening. The American Cancer Society recommends healthy adults begin regular screening at age 45. Two common screening tests are the FIT test and the colonoscopy.
When a person develops polyps or cancers in the colon, the blood vessels in these polyps are often fragile and may be injured by the passage of stool causing bleeding. Cologuard finds abnormal DNA and blood in the stool sample. If the test comes back positive, meaning blood has been detected in the stool, a colonoscopy will likely be recommended to determine the cause of the blood. Blood can also be caused by ulcers, hemorrhoids or other conditions.
The Cologuard test is a supplement to getting your recommended colonoscopy screenings.
The goal of colonoscopy is to detect polyps. Nearly all colon cancers develop from polyps – small, noncancerous clumps of cells that usually produce few or no symptoms. Many people begin developing polyps at age 50. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous.
Detecting and removing them at an early stage can help prevent the development of colon tumors. The colonoscopy procedure is performed by inserting a flexible, slender, lighted tube that is attached to a video camera into your colon to search for polyps or tumors. If polyps are found, your doctor may remove them immediately or take a biopsy for analysis. Despite the effectiveness of colonoscopy, many Americans still are hesitant to get one.
Here’s four reasons not to hesitate.
- The procedure is painless. A colonoscopy can detect, diagnose, biopsy and remove polyps in one procedure. Patients are put into a twilight sleep and remember little, if anything. The most unpleasant part of a colonoscopy is the prep the night before in which you must drink a special fluid that helps empty your colon.
- The procedure is quick. The actual colonoscopy screening takes just 15 minutes. If you figure in waiting time, consulting time, the procedure and recovery, the entire appointment typically takes about an hour.
- Screening is good for 10 years. If polyps are found, your doctor may recommend a follow-up screening before 10 years. Some people should begin screening earlier and have them performed more frequently, including African-Americans, those with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, familial cancer syndromes or those with a family history of colorectal cancer.
- Early detection catches cancer when it is more treatable. Possible signs and symptoms of colon cancer include a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, persistent cramping, gas or abdominal pain. Polyps typically do not cause bleeding until they are larger. By the time bleeding occurs and other symptoms are present, the cancer is likely to be more advanced.
Lastly, never blow off symptoms. There is no such thing as normal rectal bleeding. People often blame it on hemorrhoids, but there is no way to know for sure without appropriate screening.
Dr. Binning is board certified in Family Medicine. She’s dedicated to providing comprehensive, patient-centered care to people of all ages with annual physicals and health screenings, and diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of health problems, from common illnesses to complex and chronic health conditions. Her clinical interests include geriatrics, advanced care planning, developing LGBT inclusive health education, and skin procedures. Dr. Binning also serves as a Clinical Instructor of Family Medicine with the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. After earning her Doctor of Medicine degree from Ross University School of Medicine, she completed her Family Medicine residency at UND’s Center for Family Medicine in Minot, where she was selected Resident of the Year by Trinity Health community faculty during her final year of residency. She also was named Resident Teacher of the Year, an award given to one member of each third-year class from the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.