In the United States, colorectal cancer – cancer of the colon or rectum – is the second most common cancer affecting both men and women. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths in both Vermont and New York, despite being largely preventable.

Unlike many cancers, colorectal cancer can be caught early and even prevented with one simple step – screening. Despite this fact, more than a third of patients eligible for screening have never been screened.

Knowing how and when to get screened is something we discuss with patients every day. During March, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we’re sharing this message with our community.

Screening takes one of two forms – a colonoscopy or the examination of a stool sample.

When it comes to colonoscopy, we get it – it’s not exactly the way you want to spend your day. The preparation can be a little off-putting and the test itself is, well, less than glamorous. Yet, it remains the gold standard for screening, providing detailed results about overall colorectal health, and offers the opportunity to treat polyps (some of which may be cancer forming) at the time of the procedure. Depending on results, a follow-up colonoscopy may be recommended at intervals of three to 10 years.

Your health care provider might also recommend other less invasive options if you’re in good health and fall into the average risk population. What’s average risk?

  • You’re between the ages of 50 and 75
  • You have no family or personal history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, polyps, abdominal pain or blood in your stool
  • You have not experienced changes in the frequency, amount or consistency of bowel movements

Take-home kits, like the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), are less invasive and highly accurate. FIT examines stool for signs of microscopic blood, one possible symptom of colorectal cancer. A positive test should be followed up by colonoscopy. Check with your insurer; many cover colorectal screenings.

The best test? The one you get done.

Early detection promotes successful treatment. If you’re over age 50, talk with your health care provider today about which screening option is best for you, remembering that the best test is the one you get done.

Between screenings, no matter your age, you can promote colorectal health by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating fewer red/processed meats
  • Eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains (high in fiber!)
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol intake

If you are a patient of CVMC and have questions or concerns about colorectal cancer or screening options, contact Diane Jones, CVMC Patient Navigator, at diane.jones@cvmc.org or 225-5449.

Dr. Jeremiah Eckhaus practices at CVMC Integrative Family Medicine-Montpelier, a member of the The University of Vermont Health Network. He is CVMC’s medical director for primary care and president of CVMC’s medical staff.

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