With multiple testing options available, you are more empowered than ever to catch and prevent life-threatening diseases like colon cancer. Learn how to take proactive steps to keep your gut healthy.
With so many testing options available, patients today are more empowered than ever to catch and prevent life-threatening diseases like colon cancer. These routine screenings help us stay healthy and identifying conditions, earlier.
As we get older, our bodies change and become more susceptible to cancers. Over time, our cells begin to deteriorate and acquire more errors. Luckily, the world of screening and diagnostic testing is vast and full of preventative measures to help us detect or even avoid chronic health problems as we age. One of the deadliest problems that can emerge is colorectal cancer. Currently, it is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in adults.
But not all is grim. We’ve been cutting the numbers down over time. For example, total annual deaths from colorectal cancer in 2019 were down nearly 56% from where they were in 1970. And a large part of this is due to cancer screening and early detection.
Of course, we aren’t anywhere near done. That’s because:
- Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among people under 50 in the United States, with rates of new diagnoses still climbing in this age group
- Each year, an estimated 151,000 U.S. adults will be diagnosed with colon cancer
- It is estimated that nearly a third of these cases will result in death
Early detection is key for markers of any disease, and colon cancer is no exception. It can be a very aggressive form of cancer, so detecting it early gets you ahead of the curve.
What is colon cancer and how is it different than other diseases?
Simply put, colon cancer is defined as any cancer of the colon or rectum, located at the end of the digestive tract. Sometimes the term is used interchangeably with “colorectal cancer.”
Most colon cancers first show up as abnormal growths (called “polyps”) in the colon. There is no guarantee these polyps will turn cancerous on any timetable. They can lay dormant for years before mutating. However, if left unchecked, the polyps can become malignant and metastasize, or spread. Because your gut is so connected to—and central to—other parts of your body, colon cancer can become very aggressive and spread rapidly.
What are some ways to screen for colon cancer and which one is the most accurate?
Regular screening can detect precancerous polyps, and your physician or another specialist will be able to proactively remove them to prevent cancer before it starts. If one or more has already turned cancerous, early screening still puts you in a good position to begin treatment early. Screening options vary based on your family and medical history of colon cancer.
- Colonoscopy: The precancerous polyps can be easily detected with an invasive procedure known as a colonoscopy. A physician sends a snake-like camera into your colon and scopes out any and all abnormalities within. It is the most common method of screening for colon cancer, . Colonoscopies are usually performed every 10 years based on your family and medical history.
- FIT Test: A FIT (fecal immunochemical test) is a screening tool designed to catch any bleeding in your digestive tract. It requires no preparation or thick liquid drinks. Typically, you will be supplied with a kit to use at home. All you have to do is follow instructions provided with the kit, provide a stool sample, and then either mail or return it to your physician, healthcare practitioner or lab. A FIT test will indicate whether or not further testing, like a colonoscopy, is necessary. This test is recommended on a yearly basis for people over 45 who are at average risk for colon cancer.
A positive FIT result may lead to a negative colonoscopy result. But, the FIT screening will help keep you ahead of the curve when it comes to colon cancer.
It really is all about “the earlier, the better.” As we learn more and more every day about aggressive forms of cancer like colorectal or other bowel cancers, we’re increasing our abilities to be vigilant when it comes to detecting them before they can get out of hand.
Bottom line: Catching colon cancer early gives you a survival chance of 91%.