March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It is one of only a few cancers that can be prevented through screening. Visit the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable Web site to learn more.
What are the screening tests for colorectal cancer?
Screening tests for colorectal cancer include:
- The fecal occult blood test, a test on a stool specimen to see if there is hidden blood in the feces; a positive fecal occult blood test must be followed with a definitive test such as a colonoscopy;
- A flexible sigmoidoscopy, a flexible instrument is inserted through the rectum part way up the left side of the colon;
- An air-contrast barium enema, a radiologic study and examination of the colon;
- A virtual colonoscopy, a specialized CT scan with unique software designed to look at the lining of the colon;
- A colonoscopy, a long flexible instrument is inserted through the rectum to examine the lining of the entire length of the colon.
Anyone who has reached the age of 50 should discuss with their physician one of these methods of colorectal cancer screening. The best colorectal cancer-screening test is the screening test actually undertaken. Much of the population, for many reasons, is still not being screened with any of these tests.
James Vecchio, MD, is Medical Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of Vermont Medical Center.