Colorectal cancer – cancer of the colon or rectum – is the second-most-common cancer affecting both men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths in both Vermont and New York. The good news? Colorectal cancer is 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 never have been.
Your Screening Options
Screening takes one of two forms – a colonoscopy or the examination of a stool sample.
The gold standard for screening, a colonoscopy provides 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.
At-Home Testing Kits
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 a colonoscopy.
Your health care provider may recommend either of these options if you’re in good health and fall into the average risk population:
- 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
Check with your insurer; many cover colorectal screenings.
Staying Healthy 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
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake
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. Remember, the best test is the one you get done.
Dr. Jeremiah Eckhaus practices at UVM Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center Integrative Family Medicine-Montpelier. He is Central Vermont Medical Center’s medical director for primary care and president of the medical staff.